Creator: Svetlana Chmakova
Publisher: Yen Press
Rating: Teen (13+)
Release Date: April 2009
Synopsis: “Schools may lock up for the night, but class is in session for an entirely different set of students. In the Nightschool, vampires, werewolves, and weirns (a particular breed of witches) learn the fundamentals of everything from calculus to spell casting. Alex is a young weirn whose education has always been handled through homeschooling, but circumstances seem to be drawing her closer to the Nightschool. Will Alex manage to weather the dark forces gathering?”
Like so many others, I picked up Nightschool with high expectations based on my enjoyment reading Svetlana’s charming three-part series, Dramacon. And yet, at the same time, the story of a young girl experiencing romance at an anime convention is considerably different than the story presented here in Nightschool: an effective, if not slightly unoriginal, tale of a school with an evening class of night-rooming students amidst a city of hunters out to rid the world of their very existence.
I can’t lie, the premise of the story left some things to be desired when I initially began reading. A young girl with strange powers, an outcast from her own school, one that has a secret night class full of vampires, ghouls and magic-users. It’s hard not to see the plot’s main points as a mere conglomeration of today’s popular macabre-themes. Still, Svetlana does a great job building the world as its own entity and focusing on the characters who dwell within it instead of the quirky nuances of the story’s crowd-catering features.
The book skips around to different characters, setting down the stepping-stones for future developments from a multitude of different angles. One of the more repeatedly followed characters is Alex, the girl pictured on the book’s cover. Alex is in possession of a powerful magic that even she doesn’t understand the depths of. For a reason still a mystery to readers, she’s home-schooled and actively avoids contact with others like her, including the school where her guardian, an enthusiastic and entertaining young woman, teaches other students, those both gifted and cursed with states of being that leave them hiding from the public eye.
A great deal of the book also follows the hunters, a diverse group of individuals with serious attitudes and the skills to back it up. They hunt down dangerous nightwalkers, such as blood-thirsty vampires, and see to it their properly dealt with. Doing wonders for interests-sake, the team members don’t wear total hunter-blinders when it comes to their targets and they do seem to possess both understanding and compassion for those who they believe deserve it. I really like that’s there obviously more to the story than a bunch of magic-hating sword-wielders chasing demonic footprints. The problems both sides face here foreshadow some possible, albeit reluctant, teamwork in the future against a common, yet unknown, enemy.
Throughout this first volume various pieces of the proverbial puzzle are put together until the edges of a conspiracy are seen creeping out from the newly woven fabric. The book’s greatest moment, achieving both suspense and emotional-attachment from this reader, comes near the end when things take a sudden turn for the potential-worst, the effect of which deals a near gut-wrenching ripple-effect for someone so outgoing and involved with those around them. Setting the lead in her first solid direction, the event prompts Alex to enter the school she’s seemed so content to never visit again.
On the visual front, I didn’t find Svetlana’s artwork as much a perfect match to her story choice here in Nightschool as I did in the more light-hearted Dramacon, but that isn’t to say it wasn’t still well utilized. The sharp line work that maintains a sketch-like appeal, and a good balance of toning versus black fill-ins, do a great job establishing the dark, horror-esque tone of the story when necessary. Svetlana also does well maintaining the nighttime setting without the whole book being too dark, even for the moments when the story was less shadowy in nature (such as most moments surrounding the chipper teacher, Sarah). These charming comedic moments are always welcome, to which exaggerated expressions, sudden transition and chibi-styled variations in design offer the most delight. With some amusing back-and-forth interactions between characters (and in many cases affiliated spirits that serve as a pleasant divergence from the usual animal-sidekick fare), there was never short of something worth smiling about when your eyes weren’t glued to the quick-paced fight scenes, each showcased in sharp, visually-risky, but ultimately eye-catching, panel work.
Going the extra mile to bring this book together as a title worth picking up, Yen Press has Nightschool packaged in an attractive large cut-size release complete with interiour colour pages and a snazzy cover with a smooth finish. The text is well done and fits neatly in Svetlana’s organically drawn speech bubbles.
When all is said and done, the initially off-putting plot did little to hold back the winning grace of the story itself. The writing, delivery and presentation combined made Nightschool a read I couldn’t put down. It has its flaws stemming from the rehashed elements, but this first book still does its job as a solid foundation for what I hope will remain a sharp, character-driven story full of magic and mystery. Not sure I can forgive the ‘Where Do Demons Get Their Diplomas’ tagline quite yet though…