The Wicked + The Divine Volume 4: Rising Action – Gillen, McKelvie, Wilson, Cowles

ARGH. It’s a good “ARGH”, though. So you remember I was pretty un-fond of WicDiv Vol. 3? The disparate styles and… lack of plot cohesion really got to me. But I concluded that I had a good feeling that the sequel would solve all the problems and draw together the threads into something better. Sounded like over-optimism, yes? NOPE. It was absolutely an upswing in quality. I’m almost tempted to say it’s the best volume so far… it’s definitely better than 3 and 4… and at least on a par with 1. I genuinely enjoyed this one in a way I haven’t really any of the others, rather than just appreciating it.

What’s changed? Well, firstly, we’re back to one art style that I actually like and is consistent throughout. That alone would have made me a pretty happy person. And then there’s a really coherent single plot running through the whole thing. Double happy. But it’s also… just a really good plot. It’s got the action and drama and energy that the rest has so far lacked, even when it should have been fairly dramatic. It’s just… nicely executed and set out in a way they haven’t achieved yet. And I think it’s because it’s a lot simpler as a plot and structure than any of the previous volumes. If the whole thing had been done like this, I’ll admit, it probably would have been pretty dull. But after the faffing around, the simplicity of it is just wonderful and refreshing and exactly what they needed to be doing. The chapters are variable – and sometimes very short indeed – but they all flow beautifully and it just… works.

If I have a criticism (“if”? Of course I do), it remains much the same as the criticism I had for the first volume. It’s still not a hugely inspired interpretation of the myths. There’s fundamentally nothing there that makes me go “ooh!” at what they’ve done. I know I keep comparing it to Ody-C, and I know they’re very different things… but when you’ve got so handy such a fantastic example of interpreting Greek mythology originally and brilliantly, it’s hard not to hold the two next to each other. And it’s just not a favourable comparison.

What Ody-C does so well (apart from EVERYTHING) is that even when you know exactly what it’s doing, it still manages to surprise you. That and the fact they’ve very obviously done their research so they know very intimately the subject matter they’re subverting… which really goes into fueling the ability to surprise. And I’ve never felt, when reading WicDiv, that they actually did all that much research. I mean, a bit. They haven’t given us anything wrong, noticeably. What they handle of the mythology they do correctly (and skim over tricky bits in a perfectly competent manner), but there’s just not the level of research and cleverness you find in Ody-C. It feels mean to say it, but WicDiv is just… superficial. That’s what I really mean, I think, when I say it’s doing nothing new with the myths… there’s just not enough substance for them to do anything really substantial with. It’s a fun story with mythology stickers on, more than it is something which really connects with and reimagines the source material. And that’s quite mean of me, I know. But I think it’s valid.

Maybe they’re not going for the level of source interaction I’m searching for. Maybe they just want that mythology flavouring rather than an actual, in-depth look. And if so, then they’ve achieved. But it doesn’t feel that way. And the fandom doesn’t seem to treat it that way.

Okay, mildly snarky diversion here, and please bear with me, there is a point.

The first place I became aware of WicDiv was on Tumblr. I saw gifsets and themes and fandom squee before I saw anything of the actual novels. I saw an awful lot of aesthetic stuff related to every single character. I saw… a lot of in depth discussions on minor plot points and character traits. It was Tumblr being Tumblr, basically. Which is fine. But it occurs to me that WicDiv is far more suited to that than it is to any sort of proper analysis. It is eminently suited to a Buzzfeed-esque “Which of the pantheon are you?” quiz, far more than someone drawing on the intertextuality with the Homeric corpus or what have you. It’s… I won’t say “designed”, because I don’t presume to know what the creators actually want, but it feels geared towards superficial engagement much more than to any actual involvement with it as a text. Which is again fine… if that’s what they were going for then they definitely achieved. But it’s not what I want. I’ll grant you that I may not be your typical audience when it comes to this sort of thing, but if we’re going to get all Classicsy, then there are things I want from my media that this just doesn’t provide.

And I’m sounding negative again. This is just me rehashing things I’ve covered before, but slightly more eloquently since I’ve figured out better what was troubling me about it.

I’m still standing by my opinion that this may be the best volume in the series so far. It fixes a lot of the superficial errors and fixes them well. It goes back to what it was doing successfully in the first place, while adding some more successes too. Yes, it doesn’t fix the fundamental thing that means I will never love the series. But it’s got some lovely art, a story which is finally driving forwards meaningfully, and some characters I do now actually begin to care about… weirdly, primarily Baphomet, for no reason I can really discern. He’s not particularly nice or fun. But I like him anyway. Annoyingly, we get a bit of a slow down on Woden’s development from the previous volume (though not a complete stop) and a lot of the characters are backgrounded in this volume so action can actually happen (I’m not complaining). But we get some more of a couple of people I’ve been missing, and in general it all just feels much more pulled together.

So yeah, I’m never going to love it. But the art is pretty, the story is fun, and it’s really focussed in this volume on being a coherent, excellent story… and it’s managing that pretty well. It’s good… it’s just never going to be great.

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About readerofelse

A student of a redundant, useless and thoroughly interesting subject and reader of many books, particularly fantasy, science fiction and plenty else besides.
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