This is my first review in quite a while, so it seems fitting to return to an old foe. The final installment in Melissa Marr’s Desert Tales manga trilogy. I’ve reviewed the first two books already (the reviews are here and here) and if you don’t have time to read them, the basic summary is that I didn’t much care for them. The main issues I have are:
1. They’re confusing for people who aren’t familiar with the Wicked Lovely novels.
2. The characters are dull, unrealistic and annoying.
3. The story is all talk, no action.
4. The artwork is average at best.
And trust me, that’s me being kind.
Here’s a plot summary, but keep in mind I haven’t read the novels so there is a very likely chance that I get things wrong. You can call me out on them if you want:
The manga is set in the same world of Huntsdale as the novels, where beings known as faeries live unbeknownst to mortals. Faeries are humanoid creatures with magical powers and long life spans, but can only live in certain places (e.g. an ice faerie can’t set foot in a desert) and can’t touch certain materials such as iron and steel which are poisonous to them.
The faeries have their own political system and all follow a certain monarch, the main ones in the manga being the Summer and Winter courts. The only exceptions are the solitary fey who are like the biker gangs of the faerie world.
The manga tells the story of Rika, a human girl who was transformed into a faerie and forced to live her life in the desert, where she has become the ‘alpha.’ She falls in love with a mortal artist named Jayce and through some sort of accident he becomes able to see faeries and he and Rika form a relationship. All the while there is a battle of power going on in the desert and Rika must fight to keep her position as alpha and keep the desert safe.
I’ve probably made it all sound very exciting but trust me, it’s not. Any exciting or interesting moments are breezed over for endless prattling on about boring political matters. And good luck trying to understand any of it if you haven’t read all of the novels in the series.
So enough expo dump, let’s get started on book 3 of Desert Tales. Whoops, I’m starting to rip off Linkara! I won’t do that again.
First up the cover. Nothing to get excited about, they’re just showing off their serious faces. Rika’s boobs are slightly pushed out but that’s about it.
Open the book and you only need to get one panel in for a return to the bad artwork. Shy the fox faerie, who is apparently also the desert alpha which I don’t remember from before, is looking for Rika and witnesses some desert fey pestering humans. They commit horrible crimes like tripping people up and giving a little boy a small cut on his finger. Despite having a relatively small role in the manga thus far, they are going to be the main focus of the final book.
We then see Rika and Jayce about to leave the desert and being spied on by other desert fey. They’re surprised that Jayce can see them and Rika reveals that she gave him faery sight. So why was that never mentioned before? Is she talking about the time Jayce fell on her and then he could see her all of a sudden? It doesn’t take long for this manga to start confusing the hell out of me.
The two of them have a little talk about the nature of their relationship. It seems faeries don’t date mortals because our lifespans are much shorter than theirs. Jayce isn’t bothered because they’re happy in the present, showing that he really hasn’t put any real thought into this different lifespans thing or it’s implications.
Now this is an issue I’m writing about in my own fantasy novel, and I plan on having my main character really feel the reality of it and make it one of the main obstacles in the relationship (I won’t tell you how it ends).
Many other works of fiction have dealt with this issue much better (even Twilight made it a major plot point!) than just saying ‘well I’m happy now so who cares?’ For instance, the Lord of the Rings films handled it very well and went into it in great depth. How will Jayce feel when he’s an old man and Rika is still a young, hot teenage girl surrounded by equally young and hot faeries? And has he considered how sad Rika will be having to live for centuries without the one she loves? Read the Mayfly December article on TV Tropes for some decent examples of this issue.
So after that not-quite-romantic moment, Rika and Jayce go to see the Winter Queen to ask for her help. And how do they get there? Magical faerie super speedy running power!
Maybe this is why I don’t like faerie literature much – a lot of the time their powers seem undetermined and they pull faerie powers out their arses whenever the situation calls for it. In this volume alone there is this, the faerie sight, doing spins off of buildings and ‘faeries can’t lie.’ Just like Stephanie Myer’s vampires, just giving the characters a bunch of unexplained mystical powers doesn’t automatically make them supernatural beings. I mean, dragons may be incredibly powerful and can kill you in all manner of ways, but you know you couldn’t ask one to thread a needle. I know that analogy may have made no sense, but I assure you it did in my head.
Now the Winter Queen Donia is the only character in this entire manga who I actually like and am interested to read about. She has a beautiful character design with long flowing hair, a white wolf by her side and snowflakes in the background in every panel she’s in. She’s a lot like Gwen from Merlin, soft, gentle and intelligent but still able to queen it up when she needs to. Most importantly, she’s not ungodly annoying or inconsistent like the rest of this cast. Even her tragic romance with Keenan, who has been a real prick throughout the rest of the story, is surprisingly engaging. If the manga and novels had all been about her, I would happily read them, even with the slightly off writing style.
But of course, we don’t spend much time with her before we’re back to Shy and his…Girlfriend? When did Shy get a girlfriend? I thought he fancied Rika in the last book? He never once mentioned he had a girlfriend but now she’s just there and seemingly important I guess. Not only that but the two of them are sickingly lovey-dovey. Because how else are the readers supposed to figure out that these characters are supposed to be in love?
The two of them go to eat in a diner which is also being plagued by desert fey and a waitress is rude to them. I have no idea why the waitress is rude to them. Maybe she’s just as confused about this sudden plot point as I am. Last time there was the girl on the skateboard for no reason at all. I guess the story just really needed an unnecessarily rude waitress to break up the tension.
So after another fight scene that lasts for a few pages, there’s another long bout of talking and talking and more talking. I think this may be why I dislike this series – We see them talk about all sorts of exciting things – fights and disappearing faeries and potential wars, but do we see any of it? No, it’s like in a soap opera where you only get to see the characters talking about the important or exciting thing that just happened.
Also, Keenan shows up for only one scene in this manga, despite being talked about a heck of a lot. Wasn’t he sort of a big deal in the first two books? He’s even in the picture I’ve put at the top of the page. And then this happens and I really wish I had an interpreter to tell me what is supposed to be going on. Has Melissa Marr even read a manga before?
Back in the desert, Rika and Shy team up to go fight the big bad Mali (who despite being the main villain, has barely any exposure in this entire series) and regain control of their desert. Apparently they’re going to share the alpha duties now. Or maybe they did already. Was that what this whole story was supposed to be about, because I think I missed that.
So in pure badly written villain style, Malli is just standing there waiting for them with her minions by her side and her entire negotiation is ‘No.’ Wow, how late did she stay up writing that?
Afterwards there’s a scene of Jayce sketching in the desert with some of the desert fey watching him and they talk about the benefits of peace in the desert. This would have been a pretty nice scene, but it is also ruined by bi-polar character disorder. Jayce, who was portrayed as pretty peaceful up until now, brandishes a knife, supposedly to threaten the faeries. Then on the same page, one of the fey asks Jayce to sketch him and Jayce smiles happily saying ‘I’d love to.’ I feel like we missed a couple of lines of dialogue there.
Next we have Rika and Shy gathering up the desert fey I guess and informing them about their alpha-hood. And yet another faery super power comes out of nowhere – Rika can do spins off of buildings now! The panels are also set up very sloppily so it’s hard to figure out where the characters are positioned or what they’re doing or feeling.
This leads to the biggest anti-climax ever, or at least it would have been if there had been any decent build up to begin with. Mali is defeated and forced into exile. The desert is free and Rika and Shy sit and look at the moon and….That’s it! End of manga!
All that’s left is a brief epilogue where Shy introduces his girlfriend to Rika and Jayce, and the two of them (Rika and Jayce that is) vow to be together for the rest of their lives. Or the rest of Jayce’s life at least. Huh, that’s actually sort of a depressing ending…
I know there are a lot of people who like the Wicked Lovely series, but I also know there are a fair share of people who dislike them, along with me. Maybe it’s just because I’m not in the intended age bracket, the same reason I didn’t like Sugar Rush. Maybe I’ve just never been that into faery literature ever since Tinkerbell in Peter Pan. I never liked that little bitch. Maybe I really would enjoy the manga if I was a fan of the novels. Or maybe it really is terrible.
Putting aside the novels, the manga alone fails on it’s own merits. It has a few good parts, but otherwise there is nothing engaging or special about the art, characters or script. The romance plot is barely there, in fact it’s hard to define what the plot is supposed to really be. I don’t think Melissa Marr knows enough about manga scripts to be able to write a good one. Congratulations to her for trying though, not many people get the opportunity to have a manga published. But the whole thing just feels overly talky and is set out more like a novel than a manga.
If you’re not a fan of Melissa Marr and Wicked Lovely and have read manga before, avoid this series. From what little I’ve seen of the novels, I wouldn’t really recommend those either, except perhaps for teenage girls who are into Twilight. This is just another series that falls into the manga sinkhole.
Cloud verdict – 3/10.
But on the bright side, at least there isn’t a manga adaptation of Twilight! Wait, what’s that? They’ve done what?! Nooooooo!!!