Heavy Medal Finalist #9: Queen of the Sea
Introduced by Heavy Medal Committee Member Earl Dizon
“A queen does not abandon her people. If that pathetic shrew wants the crown, our father denied her; she’ll have to take it by force.”
“What if she takes your head along with it?”
“My people won’t allow that to happen!”
“The people aren’t here, Your Majesty.”
“We’re five days away from the palace, and your sister’s army will take the gates before dark.”
“That isn’t certain.”
“A boat is waiting by the cliffs. It will row us out to a ship in the bay. From there, we can sail to the Continent.”
“To exile. I would rather die than be exiled from my own kingdom!”
This dialogue between Queen Eleanor and her loyal servant, Francis Paget, the Earl of Kense, sets the stage for an epic retelling of Queen Elizabeth I’s fight for the throne with her sister, Queen Mary.
One can almost imagine the cramped space this heated argument is taking place in, the marching of an angry mob towards a castle waiting, and the swaying of a boat in the dock ready for its passengers. But one doesn’t have to imagine these scenes since Dylan Meconis brings them to life with her illustrations in this stand out graphic novel.
Following the Queen’s escape, we are whisked away to an island where a young orphan girl, Margaret, takes over the narration of the story.
“I wasn’t born on the Island. If you’re reading this to find out what happened to the true Queen of Albion, that’s the first thing you should know. Trust me.”
In this case, Albion is a fictionalized version of the British Isles. Truth is often blurred in Meconis’s storytelling style as well as in Margaret’s world, especially with the arrival of new guests to the Island- from Lady Cameron and her son William to Mother Mary Clemence and the exiled Queen herself, Eleanor. Each one manages to open up Margaret’s scope of life beyond the Island a little bit more in ways that conflict with one another. And, she grows with each revelation to the point where who she is is not someone she could have ever imagined being.
Her circumstances, too, become much more significant than she can handle, a lesson similar to the story she was told about of the selkie, the Queen of the Sea: “You may swim as fast you like, but even then you may be swept out to sea, to join her kingdom- though you may be drowned by the journey.”
Meconis provides interesting snapshots of island life, whether it’s a lesson in embroidery, a refresher on the rules of chess, or a guide on table gestures during a silent mealtime with the Elysian sisters.
With these pages, the texts stands on its own, which is surprising in a graphic novel where sometimes a lot of the story lies more in the artwork. Here, though, the illustrations are almost ornamental if they didn’t add a different layer to the story. But when the pictures alone have to do the heavy lifting, it still definitely manages to speak volumes.
With a tale so grand involving exiled royalty and nuns with secrets, it seems only fitting that when you think the story has ended, it promises to be only the beginning.
About Annisha Jeffries
Annisha Jeffries is the head of the youth services department at Cleveland Public Library. She was a member of the 2007 ALSC Board and served on several selection committees, including the 2018 Caldecott Committee. A 2000-2001 Spectrum Scholarship recipient, Jeffries is currently the Chair of the Norman A, Sugarman Children's Biography Award. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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