The City on the Other Side by Mairghread Scott & Robin Robinson
A devastating war is being waged between the Seelie and Unseelie courts — Coscar, the Unseelie king, has kidnapped the daughter of King Ro’hish in revenge for the theft of a precious item. Coscar’s campaign has been a long and bloody one, and it seems that he’ll stop at nothing to retrieve what was taken. Meanwhile, in our world, little Isabel comes from a wealthy Latinx family and lives with her mother in San Francisco, sometime shortly after the great Quake of 1906. Her mother is going to Europe for the summer and doesn’t want any distractions, so against Isabel’s fervent wishes, she is left with her artist father, who lives outside the city and doesn’t much seem to care about her presence. While wandering in the woods outside her father’s studio, Isabel meets a mortally wounded messenger from the Seelie realm, who tasks her with a very important duty: deliver a magical necklace to a Seelie general, and if at all possible, rescue the Seelie princess. Gathering allies along the way, like the toadstool-shaped Button and human boy Benjie, Isabel must travel between her own world and that of the fairies to succeed in her mission and prevent the Unseelie court from becoming more powerful.
Mairghread Scott and Robin Robinson’s The City on the Other Side (2018) is a charming graphic novel, with brightly illustrated panels and more than a few messages about patience, understanding, harmony, and even a little environmental stewardship thrown into the mix. Isabel is a bright, but lonely, young girl who has every financial advantage in the world, and yet only succeeds with the aid and trust of her companions. Benjie’s backstory — a slightly-older Filipino boy who was orphaned during the 1906 earthquake and now travels at will between worlds — is touching and adds some historical details about what life would have been like for a young immigrant with no socio-economic standing. Button adds some lively comic effect, though his loyalty to the Seelie kingdom is quite serious. Their adversaries are no less serious in their efforts to stop the trio from delivering the necklace, and yet supposedly evil characters like Spine and Torrent have a surprising and welcome depth to their actions.
Robinson’s color work is lovely, with interesting contrasts made between denizens of the Unseelie and Seelie courts, along with the similarities and differences between the world of fairies and the human world, and her line work is appealingly fluid. I often wanted a little more detail here and there in certain moments, especially because the end-of-book character sketches are wonderfully intricate. But characters’ facial expressions and body language are extremely expressive, and this story wouldn’t be the same without her contribution.
Beneath the bright colors and the wacky hijinks, however, there’s a definite darkness underpinning The City on the Other Side; characters bleed when injured, the war between the fairies affects the human world in very serious ways, and Isabel’s feelings of abandonment by her parents, and the terror she and Benjie share of the earthquake and its aftermath, are palpable. But there’s also a lot of good in The City on the Other Side, especially the educational elements and overall positivity. Though many elements of the story would be accessible to much-younger readers, I’d recommend it more for readers aged eight-ish and up.