Mary: The Adventures of Mary Shelley's Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Granddaughter is a graphic novel written by Brea Grant and illustrated by Yishan Li.
Mary is the Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Granddaughter of Mary Shelley, the author of the Gothic horror novel Frankenstein. Mary's family are all writers, following in the first Mary's footsteps. (This Mary thing does get a bit confusing doesn't it? But I promise the graphic novel does a much better job than I am!).
The youngest Mary is a high school student who is failing biology and has no interest in writing. She butts head with her mother who insists that all Shelley women are authors and that the youngest Mary will find her story when she's ready.
Things get a bit topsy turvy the day Mary is supposed to be dissecting a frog in biology class and her frog appears to get up and hop away despite being very dead moments before. From there Mary discovers her true gift is helping people and some not so human creatures too.
The Writing/Art style
With a graphic novel I often find it hard to review the writing because due to the nature of the novel there's not much writing, but I will say that Grant manages to create impact, emotion, and fascination with the story with very few words. Her characters all have very unique voices and no two characters seem like cardboard cut outs of the other. Grant accomplishes so much in so few words that the emotional impact of the story has carried with me since I finished reading it a month ago.
The art style is gorgeous, I received this book as an ARC from netgalley, and it was a digital copy, so the art style was probably not as well rendered as it will be in the final book, which just blows my mind, because the art in the ARC was stunning. Yishan Li is a phenomenal artist and I will be looking for more of her work in the future. I really loved the gothic tone and the darkness in the artwork, and the way the artwork paired perfectly with the words written by Grant. Li and Grant make a formidable duo.
So, this is where it does get a bit confusing because of the name Mary. There's young Mary (who is the protagonist and the Great (x5) granddaughter of the Mary Shelley who wrote Frankenstein.
Young Mary lives with her mother, two aunts and her grandmother, all of whom are in some way connected with the OG Mary in terms of their career. One aunt is a historian who writes biographies about OG Mary and Young Mary's mother writes murder mysteries and is quite well known in her own right. Each character is well developed and has a unique personality that shines through in very few lines of dialogue and in Young Mary's internal monologue. The whole cast of characters is small but each personality shines through incredibly well and each individual character makes you like them in their own right.
This comes back to mostly the art style, as it's a very visual experience (duh, it's a graphic novel). The Gothic nature of the art, coupled with the short punchy sentences create an atmosphere of gloom and uncertainty which calls back to Young Mary's uncertainty about her calling in life. The art was gorgeous and made me want to immediately find more of Yishan Li's work and bask in it. An incredibly well done, written and drawn setting in which I became fully immersed in 144 pages, no mean feat considering I usually love longer books that spend a lot of time on setting and backstory.
One of my favourite parts of this graphic novel was the call backs to Frankenstein that are sprinkled throughout the story, the not so dead frog, the introduction of a character called Adam (an undead young man who Young Mary finds quite fascinating) and the other mythical creatures that are so easily written in and make you believe in them in some way (shout out to the Loch Ness Monster). Again, the art style is fabulous and immersive and I need more of it in my life.
The Not so Good
Honestly, there's not a lot to criticise here. I do think that in the first quarter of the story there's a lack of explanation as to what happens to Young Mary and the reader could be a bit confused when she suddenly starts helping people, human and not so human, but it was easy to pick up the thread after a few pages and I was immediately reimmersed in the story and eager to turn the page and find out what happened next.
I loved this graphic novel. I was obviously reading an ARC which means that this wonderful piece has not yet been released as of the time I'm writing this (August 2020) but I was already looking online for news of a sequel which tells you something. If you like gothic literature, graphic novels and history, pick this book up ASAP.
Mary: The Adventures of Mary Shelley's Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Granddaughter comes out on October 6th 2020.