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Queen of the Sea, by Dylan Meconis

Queen of the SeaLittle Margaret has never known another home besides the island, and she has never known another mother than the nuns in the convent. A great ship visits them every spring and fall with provisions from the mainland of Albion; otherwise, they work to provide for themselves between times of prayer. Such is the peaceful rhythm of their days.

One day, a ship arrives at the island off schedule. William, a boy about her own age, becomes her friend and playmate. Margaret realizes that William is unhappy and wants to go back to Albion, but he can’t, because his father is in trouble. It is William who lets Margaret know about the political upheaval on the mainland, and it seems that his family is on the wrong side of power at the time. Years later, William has been taken back to Albion, and another ship has come with an imperious young woman, Eleanor, who is in the keeping of the Reverend Mother, who has authority over all of the obedient sisters of the Elysian order on the island. When she overhears a conversation with the Reverend Mother, Margaret learns who her parents are and what grave danger she is in.

Dylan Meconis explores themes of freedom, knowledge, and power in this luminous graphic novel based on the exile of Elizabeth I under the reign of her sister, Mary. Margaret is happy on the island until William is taken to prison in Albion, and she is content to live out her future in the convent until she finds out her true identity, and then she is conflicted over whether or not it is her duty to use her power for good.

This is a large volume with ivory-colored pages recalling medieval parchments. Most of the illustrations are done in rich colors and realistic style, but the style changes with the content. When someone is telling Margaret a story, the illustrations look like a child’s drawings, and when a character is reading from a document, the font becomes Gothic calligraphy and resembles a manuscript. Margaret loves needlework, and the illustrations of her embroidery may be photographs. This graphic novel contains more text than most, and the reader will learn a great deal about the ordinary work of the late middle ages, as well as the inner workings of a religious order. The story is beautiful and compelling, but taken as a complete package, Queen of the Sea offers an experience beyond simple prose.

Graphic novels are not usually my first choice of format, but as a lover of art and history, I can highly recommend Queen of the Sea.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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