Friday, November 30, 2018

Review: On A Sunbeam

Title: On a Sunbeam
Author: Tillie Walden
Genre: speculative fiction, space fantasy
Release Date: October 2, 2018
Goodreads        Chapters        IndieBound
eARC recieved through NetGalley

When, after leaving private school, Mia signs onto a small, rag-tag crew that repairs ancient structures on different planets she doesn't expect to find a family. Nor does she expect a chance to see Grace, the love she lost in school, again. 

Out of Ten: 6/10

Review at a Glance: A quiet space-fantasy with beautiful illustration but a lack of engaging characters.

Review: I'm not much of a graphic novel reader, as a general rule of thumb, but the synopsis of this one caught my attention, and I love the cover. It was kind of an impulse-request when I saw it on NetGalley and I was a bit surprised when I was approved for an ARC. (In my defense, I was approved for it two days before the release, which is why the review wasn't on my usual schedule. Less in my defense, it still shouldn't have taken me as long as I did to get to it.)

I find myself without that much to say, though, which is part of why this review has taken me longer to write than I had been expecting. 

On a Sunbeam is a space fantasy (I hesitate to call it science fiction given the lack of science included in it), and as a story is in a similar vein to The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, which is to say that the themes are dominantly character-based, and about relationships. It's a love and friendship and found-family story primarily, quiet in a way that really reminds me of Becky Chambers' work. On a Sunbeam is a quiet story, where not much happens in terms of big action scenes. It is also non-chronological. The timeline set in Mia's present follows her and the crew she's been hired on with after finishing with school, the other timeline tells the story of Mia in school, meeting and falling in love with- and then losing- Grace. 

The point of view isn't entirely consistent either. The majority of the storytelling centers around Mia, but the rest of the crew, as well as Grace and her family get screen time apart from Mia as well. If there is graphic novel equivalent to telling a story in third-person omniscient, I think that's what this is. 

There was, however, something frustratingly unmemorable about the story, which hindered my ability to really get into it. I kept finding myself having to remind myself of the names of the characters, and just didn't find myself really relating to any of the characters on an emotional level. Everything happening with them was... just happening. I didn't really feel much of anything in response to any of it. I think, in a way, this story came up against the limits of it's page count and medium- there just wasn't enough time to convincingly develop the characters and the relationships when seeing them all from the outside, and, as the story is primarily driven by the characters and their relationships, that made it difficult for me to feel anything beyond a sort of neutral enjoyment. 

That said, I can see it being a very comforting story? It's quiet and I really do like the themes. Also there are some really beautiful spreads in this book from a visual standpoint. The worldbuilding is mainly done visually, with the aesthetic being almost Ghibli-esque. There clearly isn't a grounding in science, despite the space setting but then- there doesn't need to be. It isn't that kind of a story, and it isn't trying to be. Instead it's beautifully illustrated fish-ships and alien landscapes, conveyed with simple pallets that vary throughout the book and help differentiate past from present. The landscapes and world art were kind of my favourite part, actually, the work really is striking on that front. (The character design, at least for me, occasionally made it a struggle to tell characters apart at a glance.)

Overall, this read was enjoyable for me, if not memorable in terms of story or character. The strongest component was that I was always looking forward to seeing the world Tillie Walden illustrated! I like, as a concept, the themes of found family, and the queer love stories (and that the story included a non-binary person!), even if I found that the characters in execution didn't really resonate with me. I'm left with the feeling of wishing that this story had been everything to me that it was trying to be, but also the sense that it might work for someone else.

Also you can check out On a Sunbeam, as a webcomic here, if you want a better sense of the story! As I said, although there were parts of it that weren't for me, the illustration is often very beautiful and I think the story might be something that would work really well for some people.

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