The Weirn Books Vol. 1: Be Wary of the Silent Woods is as gorgeous on the inside as it is the outside, with incredible artwork throughout to match a compelling story of family, friendship, and a whole lot of magic.
From the blurb:
In the Night Realm, vampires, shifters, weirds, and other night things passing for human prowl the streets… but they still have to go to school! Ailis and Na’ya are pretty average students (NOT losers), but when a shadow starts looming and a classmate gets all weird, they are the first to notice. It gets personal, though, when Na’ya’s little brother D’esh disappears — It’s time to confront the secrets of the forbidden mansion in the Silent Woods!
It’s not often I find a magical world as easy to fall into as the one Chmakova has created with the Night Realm. Even in the most realized of fantasy settings, I sometimes find myself getting lost trying to keep up with every detail its creator has pumped into its design. Sometimes, the effort to make a world feel alive can make the reader confused or uninterested, especially when the effort is made through the all-too-dreaded practice of info-dumping.
With Be Wary of the Silent Woods, worrying about the magical world — which is the crux of good storytelling in a fantasy novel — never came to my mind. In fact, Chmakova introduces the Night Realm so seamlessly, I almost forgot I was reading a fantasy until halfway through the first chapter. From start to finish, it truly felt like dunking my head into a bucket of warm, magical water until I finally — and reluctantly — had to come back up for air.
There’s a reason for this effect, as the novel is clearly targeted at a younger reader demographic who might struggle to comprehend intricate plot details and George R. R. Martin-levels of world-building. Even though it might’ve been simplified for the readers’ sake, it made me realize just how much an overemphasis on world-building can get in the way of what really matters in a book. Because of such streamlined focus, I found myself easily growing a connection to the story’s main characters and the universe they lived in. This digestibility made the high points of the narrative stick out with extra emphasis — and boy, are there a lot.
There’s no question that any reader will fall in love with the characters of Ailis and Na’ya, along with their sidekicks — and enemies! — who come along the way. Chmakova’s writing completely captured the essence of youthful voices for each character, and her craft truly shines through the lovable and distinct personalities made for them. Even in a book of barely 200-pages, I could recognize the dimensions carefully crafted for each of Weirn’s fantastic protagonists.
In fact, some of my favorite characters didn’t even have a single line of dialogue throughout the entire book: the astrals, who are the demonic guardian spirits to our witchy young protagonists. Chmakova’s artistic style is at full-force with these spiritual, mischievous creatures, bringing them to life with as much clarity as their human-ish counterparts.
This attention to detail is what makes everything about Weirn stand out as fantasy done right, especially when targeted to a younger audience. Without revealing too much, this appreciation for magical realism applies just as effortlessly into the main storyline. Ailis and Na’ya follow an adventure most readers will be familiar with involving bullies, crushes, malevolent dark forces — and worse, annoying family members. But even though the story might not come across as anything particularly new to seasoned readers, the allure of the Night Realm cannot be understated.
As with any graphic novel, the illustrations were what really took the main spotlight. Chmakova cut no corners in this regard, making each piece just as wonderful to look at as the last. Both the writing style and artistic flourishes meshed together to bring every joke, revelation, and character to life with amazing creativity.
Overall, Weirn is a story about friendship and family… and maybe a little bit of evil. I appreciated the themes Chmakova presented throughout the novel without making it seem preachy. You’ll still get the school-ground bullies and juvenile love-interests that make middle-grade stories so special, but there’s more than enough shocking moments and thrilling surprises to please even the oldest of readers. After all, that’s what magic is all about.