Review by Frank Plowright
Ally and Lisa were the centrepieces of Volume 1, both taking steps into a new BDSM lifestyle, Lisa as an initiate and Ally as a dominatrix. That introductory volume featured a third character, though, Alan. He and Ally were college lovers – how they first meet is great – but they remain extremely close friends despite that not working out. Alan’s a talented designer and creates all the devices Ally imagines. In his personal life, however, he remains unfulfilled. That’s about to change.
The change is initiated in the middle of an interesting discussion that could be interpreted as Sunstone’s creator Stjepan Šejić answering closed-minded critics, as it concerns an astonishment that anyone would want to experiment with any sex beyond a narrow definition of what’s normal. Šejić toys with that throughout, starting with his glamorised version of sex being waylaid by a women’s period. It’s a way of teasing readers who just want to see girls getting it on again, which is further postponed by a great wedge of backstory concerning how Lisa, but mostly Ally and Alan developed their sexual tastes. It also addresses the point at which play and exploration becomes addiction.
There’s a level at which this book is going to disappoint, but on the other hand it’s going to sort the men from the boys so to speak. The problem for some will be that unlike the first volume there’s very little explicit sexual content. Anyone who’s followed on from that volume will come to the decision about whether they’re reading Sunstone just to see attractive people making out, or whether they’ve been hooked by the romance and friendship between the main characters, as there’s plenty of soul-baring. And not just on Ally and Lisa’s part. We learn about a newly broadened cast with differing personalities and attitudes, and we learn about a guilty secret.
That’s the point at which this volume loses some credibility. Without too much spoiling, something goes wrong, it has consequences, and it leads to recrimination. Šejić builds this carefully, but here his so far solid instinct regarding characterisation takes a swerve. He wants to show Ally’s vulnerable side, but the manner of doing so is by introducing guilt, and it’s artificial and unconvincing.
Artistically there can be no complaints. Yes it’s objectification, but all sex is to some degree objectification on all parts. Šejić’s great at realistic expressions that don’t come across as posed, which is a failing of many artists working in a figurative style, and considering almost the entire graphic novel is people talking, he manages to vary the art to ensure it’s never boring.
So a less explicit graphic novel than the opener, but one that explores the cast more. It’s also available combined with the previous book and the next in hardcover as Sunstone Book 1. Ally and Lisa’s story continues in Volume 3.