THE CITY ON THE OTHER SIDE by Mairghread Scott and Robin Robinson
Art
Characterization
Plot
Summary
Mairghread Scott and Robin Robinson create a beautiful world of fairies and humans. THE CITY ON THE OTHER SIDE is a story full of heart and adventure.
84 %
A Wild Fairy Adventure

There’s a fairy war going on in THE CITY ON THE OTHER SIDE. Written by Mairghread Scott with art by Robin Robinson, the graphic novel follows a young girl named Isabel. She lives in the human world, in early-1900’s San Francisco after The Great Quake of 1906. Her mother never lets her explore the city, expecting her to always be clean and proper. Meanwhile, her father seems to forget she exists.

But Isabel is bored out of her mind and wants nothing more than to explore the city in person. She stares at it through windows and on her map. She just wants to get her hands dirty and go on an adventure — because maybe out there, people will pay attention to her. Through a mishap with the veil between the fairy world and the human world, Isabel is able to cross through to the city on the other side. She receives a mission, and finally, FINALLY, gets to go on a proper adventure.

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The Story of the Fairies

Throughout the book, a war rages between the fairy factions. On one side are the Seelie, those who “blessed fern and bird and human being alike.” The Seelie think that fairies should work with humans, rather than destroying them. They are generally a bit more on the bright side, literally colored with brighter tones. The Seelie tend to be more plant-based as well (their king is a tree).

CITY ON THE OTHER SIDE
Image courtesy of First Second.

On the other, there are the Unseelie, those who blessed “worm and stone and crumbling log.” Generally, they are more earth-toned, using browns and grays. They resemble things that live underground or underwater, like mer-people and trolls. The Unseelie find humans to be harmful to the world of the fairies and have no interest in working with them. Not even a little bit. Instead, they would rather overthrow the regular order of things and destroy humans, taking over both the fairy and human worlds. This, of course, the Seelie aren’t fans of, and so begins the war.

Crossing the Veil in THE CITY ON THE OTHER SIDE

The war sweeps Isabel up by mistake. She promises a Seelie that she will deliver a necklace to another Seelie named Miyori. Isabel teams up with a little mushroom named Button. Through their travels, they run into a thief named Benjie, who helps them along the way.

Though Isabel has never been on an adventure before, she holds her own quite well throughout the story. She learns to lead and eventually finds her own voice and strength in the midst of the adventure. Isabel struggles, of course, but she quickly takes to getting her hands (and dress) dirty, taking on an important task for the good of all fairy-kind. Though there are a few moments that feel rushed throughout the book, the pacing overall is quite strong. Most of the pacing issues lie in Benjie and Button, who are willing to give their own lives for Isabel perhaps a little too quickly.

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Isabel, on the other hand, stumbles through her troubles and grows as a character more slowly and purposefully. We get the most insight into her life, before the adventure. Readers want her to succeed, even if only to give her more confidence in herself. She starts literally as a small-voiced child (even the text in her word bubbles is smaller when she feels small). As she heads on this adventure, she learns to lead and finds the relief for the boredom she experiences at home.

World-Building and a Diverse Cast

Though there may be some pacing issues, the story of THE CITY ON THE OTHER SIDE is incredibly complex and beautifully executed. Scott and Robinson clearly did a ton of research for this, both in terms of the historical and the fantastical world-building. The world of the Seelie and Unseelie fairies is lush and diverse, filled with all sorts of creatures from across the mythological spectrum. In the back of the book, there are a few additional pages describing the process. Scott and Robinson include hints as to which creatures are based on which mythological creature, which I absolutely loved.

CITY ON THE OTHER SIDE
Image courtesy of First Second.

The human beings in the book are also diverse (though there are very few humans). Isabel comes from a Spanish-speaking family, while Benjie is Filipino. Not only are there two people of color in the leading roles in this book, but the main character is also female. It’s something we don’t see nearly enough of in graphic novels (or, honestly, in books in general).

All of the characters, whether fairy or human, are well-developed and interesting in their own right. With such a large cast of characters, it’s easy for some to get drowned out. However, that doesn’t happen with anyone in THE CITY ON THE OTHER SIDE. Everyone feels unique, both in terms of looks and personality.

The Art on Both Sides of the Veil

Not only are the characters well-crafted, but they are superbly drawn as well. Robin Robinson’s art is adorable, fresh, and dynamic. Everyone seems like they’re in constant motion, like they’re living. Emotion fills everyone’s body language. Especially noteworthy is Isabel at the beginning of the book. Her mother dismisses her every time she says something, so she shrinks back into herself. The same happens when she’s at her father’s house. She hunches, getting smaller and smaller, retreating into herself.

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The panel structure throughout the book does similar work. Many of the panels are dynamic, and some others have fanciful borders around them, which give them depth and set them apart from the rest of the story. Overall, the art is perfect for THE CITY ON THE OTHER SIDE. The variety of fairy creatures and structures provides a stark contrast to that of the human side. It adds so much interest, color, and texture to the story.

Final Thoughts

THE CITY ON THE OTHER SIDE is a beautiful and fun adventure story, with a diverse cast of characters. Though on the surface, this book is about a war, it’s much more about finding your voice and where you belong. THE CITY ON THE OTHER SIDE is another absolute winner from First Second books. It’s a story I would recommend over and over again.

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