Graphic Novel · Modern Fantasy · Review · Young Adult

Piper by Jay Asher & Jessica Freeburg | Graphic Novel Review

Piper by Jay Asher and Jessica FreeburgIllustrator: Jeff Stokely

Publisher: RAZORBILL

Pub. Date: 2017

Genres: Fairy Tale Retelling, Fantasy YA, Romance Graphic Novel

Pages: 140

Rating: 3 of 5 Stars

Authors Jay Asher and Jessica Freeburg collaborated with illustrator Jeff Stokely to rewrite “The Pied Piper of Hamelin” with a romance between the Piper and a deaf girl and with an answer to how he performed his magic. Admittedly, I was more interested in Jay Asher, who authored Thirteen Reasons Why, contributing to the story line than I was in a retelling of “The Pied Piper of Hamelin.” I didn’t have high hopes for Piper, but I gave it the benefit of the doubt. I should have went with my gut.

My distrust of the tale came from the second and third paragraphs of the synopsis. They read,

When Maggie meets the mysterious Piper, it seems that all her wishes are coming true. Spellbound, Maggie falls hard for him and plunges headfirst into his magical world. But as she grows closer to the Piper, Maggie discovers that he has a dark side.

The boy of Maggie’s dreams might just turn out to be her worst nightmare . . .

Combined with the knowledge of how short the graphic novel is, these paragraphs sound eerily similar to the promise of Colleen Oakes’ Stars, a Peter Pan retelling. This “Pied Piper of Hamelin” retelling is darker than its original, but the virtuous love interest of the Piper lessened the impact of a darker tale. That is mostly because he was never “her worst nightmare.” At least Oakes delivered on that type of promise for Peter in her novel.

The romance between the two outcasts is okay. It’s not anything to write home about, but it functions well enough. For all of the promise of nightmares and manipulation between Maggie, the deaf love interest, and the Piper, there was none. The morality of his power over people and animals is more forced than a real threat to Maggie or a scary temptation for them. I reached a point in the story where I was rooting for him to take the children, kill the jerks who hurt Maggie, and have him convince her to leave. It never went down this nightmarish path. If he’s supposed to become nightmarish to her, she is never once scared of him, and he never tries to scare her. (Him pretending to be a zombie as a joke is not what I mean.) There has to be a level of threat in this type of dark romance, and it isn’t there.

Where it does get dark is giving the Piper a backstory for why he goes town to town, ridding each of pests with his music, and for how he got this power. He has his own tragic backstory involving flames, which are a motif, and the greed and meanness of towns. His power is scary, and he easily switches to getting revenge, but that revenge never feels like it’s coming from the power hungry place that Maggie and the synopsis would have you believe. It mostly stems from a protective place in his heart. He’s matter-of-fact and cares about the local outcast. Falls in love with her, even. The most he changes is putting his trust in someone.

Where do I sit on this romance? I want to give the whole book 2 stars for the initial read and not keeping its promise, but it is worth 3 for the book convincing me to root for the Piper.

There were four things I really liked about this story. I liked that Maggie does her best to read lips now that she is deaf and that Agathe tries to help her when she mispronounced words, which only happened around the old lady. I like that Maggie adds twists to the tales told about the townspeople in private. I like how the Piper tells everyone the power is in his flute when it is really him learning the songs that control these people and the animals. Finally, I like the motif of the flames and how they’re drawn.

The art style is reminiscent of what How To Train Your Dragon might look if it were translated into a 2-D graphic novel. Every character’s face has blush on the nose to give a little depth and warmth. However, the thick lines on some characters do not make sense when they appear in the foreground of the panel or when they’re on a surface touched by the light source. They look odd with how hard the book tries to make itself dark and rough. The scenes that are the most powerful are all that have open flames in them, such as when rats burn or when Maggie dances at a bonfire.

Johann cleaning the stained glass window, Piper by Jay Asher & Jessica Freeburg, illustrated by Jeff Stokely
Johann and priest discuss the Piper and Maggie while Johann washes a church window.

My main problem with the art is that sometimes the pacing doesn’t work well in graphic novel form, though it would seemingly make sense in prose. There were several places where a major time transition happened at the gutter of two pages, and those transitions made it difficult to follow the time and setting.

If you’re looking for a quick read and don’t care as much about how great the story is, you might like Piper. You might enjoy this story if you’ve been looking for a retelling of “The Pied Piper of Hamelin.” Otherwise, it might be better to pass on this book.

2 thoughts on “Piper by Jay Asher & Jessica Freeburg | Graphic Novel Review

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