Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Review Rerun: Amy Unbounded: Belondweg Blossoming by Rachel Hartman

Cover art for Amy Unbounded, featuring two pale-skinned kids performing a formal dance along a tree branch. A bagpipe-playing rabbit looks on.
A slightly different version of this review originally appeared on my old blog, Stella Matutina.

Y'all know SHADOW SCALE, Rachel Hartman's second novel, topped my Most Anticipated list for 2015. I'll have a review of the book itself on March 10th, and I figured I'd mark the occasion by revisiting Hartman's other books.

AMY UNBOUNDED is an indie comic Hartman began in 1996. It's set in Goredd, just like SERAPHINA and SHADOW SCALE, with a few differences we can chalk up to writerly evolution and the need to fit the world to the current story. Many of the issues remain uncollected and Hartman has definitively decided not to continue the series, but one wonderful, out of print trade collection exists. I strongly encourage you to track a copy down.

I love AMY UNBOUNDED: BELONDWEG BLOSSOMING a little bit more every time I read it, to the point where it's fast approaching Old Friend status. It doesn’t matter how well I know the characters or their story; they never fail to thrill me, entertain me, rip my heart out, and make me think.

I love it so much because:

  • It’s about women. Amy lives in a medievalesque world where men hold most of the explicit power. Women can own businesses only if particular conditions are met, and an unmarried woman is under a male relative’s guardianship--unless he’s sold her to someone else. Hartman illuminates the circumstances in which these women live and the ways they guard their autonomy in a culture that often works against their needs and wants. She’s frank about the challenges women face, and she doesn’t turn away from the harsher realities of life in a male-dominated society.

    Hartman places equal emphasis on the ways women thrive. Nine-year-old Amy has grown up surrounded by strong, capable women who have carved such distinct places for themselves that she doesn’t initially realize they're disadvantaged. It’s not until outside problems encroach that Amy cottons on to the imbalance--and even then, the women in her life are unwilling to roll over and take what’s been handed to them. They preserve their power by working within the system when possible, but they’re willing to look for less societally-sanctioned options if there’s no other way.

    These women face quietly terrifying ordeals in a world that isn’t set up for their comfort or convenience. On this most recent reread, I couldn't even get through the dramatis personae without tearing up because I was thinking about Niesta and Pearl-Agnes. It's powerful stuff.

  • Amy is a realistic almost-ten-year-old. She behaves exactly as your average nine-year-old does behave: neither overly mature or too babyish. Hartman delivers silly jokes and moments of clarity in equal measure. Amy’s far from stupid, but she’s young enough that certain things haven’t quite clicked into place yet. Her worldview is initially informed by appearances, a youngster’s interpretation of adult conversations, and her own limited experience. As the narrative unfolds, she gains a greater understanding of how others view the world, and of the social realities that govern Goreddi life.

    It’s deep stuff, but it’s by no means all heavy, all the time. Amy also plays plenty of pretend games, fights with her BFF (who she stubbornly insists is anything but), and develops a crush, just like any kid might. She's deep, but she's also a lot of fun.

  • There are dragons! Well, just one dragon, but he’s a scholar researching folkloric traditions. Y’all know I love me some academia, and I do enjoy a good bit of folklore. Dragons are awesome, too, especially when they’re mired in most improper situations that could spell DOOM for everyone.

    Oh, dragons. Y’all just keep on rocking, and I’ll keep on reading about it.

    Also! Something happens to this particular dragon that I found kind of scary the first few times I read it, but is utterly terrifying and tear-inducing now I’ve read SERAPHINA. Win!

    (But not for Lalo. Poor Lalo.)

  • The art is great. It’s cartoony, so those of you who prefer uber-realistic comics might not connect with it, but I feel Hartman's art perfectly complements the story she tells here. Her characters all have personality to spare, family members look alike without becoming indistinguishable, and her creative panelling drives the story forward. Thumbs up.
I dearly wish AMY UNBOUNDED weren’t out of print. I want everyone to read it. As it stands, I’ll have to urge you to look for it at your library, your favourite used bookstore, or through a third-party seller on Amazon. And despite Hartman's statement, I hold onto my vain hope that another collected edition will appear someday; or, better yet, that she'll scan the comics and make them available for digital purchase.

I'd buy the hell out of THE COMPLETE AMY UNBOUNDED in digital form, and y'all know how rarely I buy the hell out of anything.


  1. My copy of SHADOW SCALE hasn't even been SHIPPED yet. I remember when pre-ordering meant you got a book early. :( I also haven't had a chance to read this book. Maybe one day!

    1. :( I was lucky enough to get a DRC off NetGalley. It was Read Now when they first added it, but I think they made a mistake and later switched it to requests only. Luckily, I snagged it almost as soon as it appeared!

  2. Hooray! I want to read this! I have been reading all ebooks this past month, as I've been traveling, and I'm craaaaving a good library trip so I can acquire all the hard copy books. And this is most definitely on my library list for the next trip. (It won't be until early next week, I fear, due to visiting friends, but I am eagerly anticipating it already.)

    1. I'm so excited for you to read this. IT IS SO GOOD JENNY THERE ARE SO MANY LAYERS.