I have to admit that while I like comics, outside of a few classic graphic novels, I’m not hugely familiar with the big names on the comic book scene – certainly not to the extent that I would, say follow a favourite novelist or film director. However, since picking up the comic adaptations of M.R. James’s Ghost Stories Of An Antiquary I made a point to keep tabs on what writers John Reppion and Leah Moore were up to.
Turns out I’ve had a non-fiction book of Reppion’s on my bookcase for years (and indeed have read a few times). His 800 Years Of Haunted Liverpool was a fun romp through some of the famous (and a handful of less well known) myths, legends and ghost stories from Merseyside. As an honorary Scouser (I worked in the city for over a decade) I am a sucker for local spooky tales and he has a knack for telling them! Along with his wife Leah Moore (who gains extra points with me for being from my home county of Northamptonshire), they’ve written, among others, the James adaptations, Sherlock Holmes and Dracula comics, strips in 2000AD and the wonderful Albion (which of course, was co-created with Leah’s father, the incomparable Alan Moore).
I’ve had Conspiracy of Ravens sat in my Christmas wish list since it was first announced a few months back. But when I saw that Moore and Reppion were signing copies at the branch of Traveling Man just around the corner from my flat I broke my vow to not buy myself things in the run-up to the festive period. After a lovely chat with the duo (about every EXCEPT comics, including mince pies and gin) I happily made my way home with two signed copies (one for me, the other for… well, read on and find out).
I’ve now read it through a couple of times. I’d love to say I did that to be thorough in this review, but it was purely for pleasure! But what is it all about? Well, without giving too much away, Conspiracy Of Ravens is about schoolgirl Anne Ravenhall who inherits a decrepit old manor house from a distant relative she hasn’t even met, along with an eccentric maid who has served Anne’s family for a long time. On top of that Anne also receives a locket which, when opened grants her unusual abilities. As dark forces close in to take her newfound power for themselves, she discovers that she is not the only person with one of these amulets and sets about bringing them together.
Conspiracy of Ravens is listed on the back of the jacket as a “Juvenile” fiction, which I found to be an unusual description. As a writer of fiction myself which intend for everyone to enjoy I’d say that “All Age” is a far better description. At no point, as an adult reader, did I feel talked down to or that things had been simplified. It’s a sophisticated story which you have to concentrate on to follow – there’s a lot going on – and that’s certainly not a bad thing. I can see why it has been labelled this way as there are a few loose similarities with Harry Potter but it has a real nostalgic feel to it too for the 30s and 40s crowd. It captures a sensibility which will be familiar to readers of WGN favourites, Misty and Scream! These classic Brit-Horror titles were so obviously an influence on Moore and Reppion that there is, in fact, a Misty-related joke early on. A nice little touch that made me smile.
High-school comedy-dramas like Clueless or Mean Girls were also clearly an influence and I also felt – and I could be wrong here – but I got the feeling that Battle Of The Planets may have been an inspiration. I think at its heart Conspiracy of Ravens is a superhero team-up story – just with a supernatural, high-school, very British twist.
And I haven’t even mentioned Sally Jane Thompson’s wonderful artwork. The entire idea for the story was born from an illustration which Thompson drew for Reppion (and is included in the back of the book) so she is very much an equal partner in the creation of the book. Her lovely, clean lines make even the most action-packed of panels a joy to follow. Her character design, while very British – evoking memories artist’s like Misty‘s sadly departed John Armstrong – also has more than a hint of far eastern influence. Indeed, Thompson herself has listed celebrated Mangakas Hitoshi Ashinano and Kaoru Mori amongst her influences.
Despite thoroughly enjoying Conspiracy Of Ravens both times I did have one small criticism: It feels like an origin story – and by the end, there is still so much more of the richly drawn (with illustrations and words) world that Anne and her friends inhabit. However, in an interview with Comicbook.com, Reppion allayed my fears when he said “The world of Conspiracy of Ravens is one we’ve got big plans for in the future.” and “We want to pick up right at the start of the next term as Gables School for Girls and just keep going.” Great news indeed.
If you fancy a fun read that is so much more than “a story for girls” then get this right away! But more importantly, get this for the child/niece/nephew/godchild in your life – it’s jam packed with inspirational role models and exciting adventures for boys and girls alike.
Ravens out of five:
We have a copy of Conspiracy Of Ravens to give away. Not only is it signed by Leah Moore and John Reppion but Sally Jane Thompson has very kindly drawn, just for us, an original illustration to stick in the front. Watch this space, like our Facebook page and follow @WorldGeeklyNews on Twitter for details of how to enter and win it.