Reviews /

Sisters of the Mist

Authored by Marlyn Spaaij
Illustrated by Marlyn Spaaij
Published by Flying Eye Books

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With comic books and graphic novels growing in popularity and taking their rightful place on the shelves, both in the classroom and at home, the race is on to provide more good quality product for eager readers to lap up. Flying Eye Books are working hard on this and Sisters of the Mist joins a growing stable of titles under the brand that brought you the mighty Hilda titles amongst others.

Like Hilda, Sisters of the Mist features a strong female lead. Also, like Hilda, it takes place in a landscape filled with trolls and other supernatural creatures. Unlike Hilda, the sense of uncanny, supernatural threat is managed for scares rather than laughs, the creepy parts of the book are really creepy. The art is attractive and atmospheric, particularly in those creepy scenes, and the characters are well developed and relatable.

In our story, sisters Kyra, Margot and Janna are dropped off at their grandmother’s house in the country for the summer. Mum heads back home and the girls settle in for another glorious summer of making pillow forts, toasting marshmallows and getting themselves lost in the woods. Part of the attraction is the supernatural beings that inhabit the woods – maybe we as readers aren’t quite sure if, in this universe, the creatures are real or just stories that the girls tell each other. The scariest creatures of them all are the Fog Furies ‘strange mist creatures who lure young girls into the fog. Once the furies take them, they are lost forever’.
Early in our story, Margot, the eldest sister of the three is bewitched or possessed by the Fog Furies and starts to behave strangely. She doesn’t want to spend time with her little sisters anymore; she prefers to stay in her room and read graphic novels about sexy vampires and message her friends.

As a coming-of-age story the book is frank in a way that I think will be refreshing and reassuring to many young readers. Margot’s first period is dealt with in a thoroughly non-magical and matter of fact way. The girls are fascinated by breasts – Margot’s chest is just starting to develop while gran’s is enormous. The subject of puberty is kept bubbling along beneath the A plot and gran – who reminded me rather of the crones in the wonderful Belleville Rendezvous – is a superb, loving, nonjudgmental guide.

If Margot is reaching puberty and is becoming lost to the terrifying Fog Furies, perhaps we think that coming into one’s adult self, and growing into one’s sexuality, is a scary or disturbing thing that children should rightly be afraid of? Without giving too many spoilers, I would want to reassure readers – and adult book purchasers – that this is turned around and dealt with rather beautifully. The sequence in which Margot is inducted into the sisterhood is beautifully achieved and made a tear come to my eye.

Ultimately, this book is perhaps closer to the Studio Ghibli canon than it is to Hilda. The cute characters and fabulous storyline are absolutely in service to a really heartfelt story which has a deeply universal message. Come for the kawaii root vegetable creatures, stay for the power of sisterhood.

A couple of caveats. Firstly, at times the book does look and feel a bit more like a treatment for an upcoming animation than something that was born to be a book. I was not at all surprised when I found that the creator, Marlyn Spaaij, is a leading figure in animation in the Netherlands but has not, at least as far as could find, published before. So maybe this book is part of a process towards the production of a Sisters of the Mist movie. If so, perhaps young readers will be excited to read it before they see the film. Secondly, the language in the book comes off to me a little strangely. It feels like it has been translated by someone who isn’t a native speaker. I don’t know if I’m right but it just seemed very slightly off. I don’t think this will put off a young reader but it knocked me out of the world a little bit.

With a cast of sisters, mother and granny, a ‘real life’ theme of the onset of puberty and with an overarching theme of growing into womanhood, this is a book with a reasonably specific audience. I don’t see it being hugely taken up by the boys in the class – though maybe, if they get all their giggles out on this book, it could save their sisters and friends the bother of educating them. Our eyes in the book are Margot’s younger sisters Kyra and Janna – perhaps five and eight years old – and it’s a book to be read when just coming into puberty which, as we know, is happening to girls at a much younger age than was the case for their mothers and grandmothers. I’d say the book will probably find its sweet spot in Years Four and Five.

Shortlisted for The Week Junior Book Awards 2023: Children’s Book of the Year – Illustrated category