Review: Dryad Vol. 1

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After the runaway success of Rat Queens, you might expect Dryad—a collaboration between Rat Queens writer Kurtis J Wiebe and artist Justin Barcelo—to be a similarly comedic affair. But Wiebe knows his way around drama, too (let’s not forget Green Wake), and Dryad is testament to that. Dryad isn’t without a few laughs, but a story about a family on the run from a hostile world, trying to find a small slice of peace away from a violent past, is one that has to be carried by its drama, emotion, and empathy. That’s a challenge that Wiebe and Barcelo rise to admirably.

Dryad is a story of the Glass family, who’ve lived a peaceful life in the sleepy little town of Frostbrook for the past 13 years. Morgan and Yale moved here when their twins Griffon and Rana were just babies. Yale found comfort in his new life as a history teacher, Morgan gets by as part of the town watch (though she’s not nearly as settled into life away from the city as her husband), and twins have never known anything else. 

Related: Read our review of Lady Mechanika: Vol. 6 – Sangre, a book that explores the family theme from a very different, but just as impressive, way.

But the past never stays buried for long. A sudden attack on Frostbrook sees the Glass family dragged back into a world of crime and danger, of old friends whose trustworthiness is questionable and of tepid alliances with old enemies. It’s a world that Griffon and Rana, especially, know nothing about, and they suddenly discover that there’s a lot more to their parents than they ever knew—which is a lot to take in for anyone, let alone a couple of teenagers trying to find their place in the world.

This sets up Dryad for plenty of action and excitement—beyond the first chapter, hardly a page goes by without some sort of attempted murder or mass destruction. But more than that, it sets up a story about a family trying to stick together with a whole world out to get them, and with plenty of their own internal drama to work through. Again, it’s serious and tense, but underscored by emotion and empathy. It’s easy  to understand why Morgan and Yale would have lied to their kids about so much for so long, and it’s easy to understand why Griffon and Rana would be upset about that, even knowing that it came from a place of love and a desire to protect them. 

The script and art come together at every turn to drive home the love that holds the Glasses together, whether they’re enjoying a brief reprieve, working together to attend to their latest assailants, or dealing with their own conflicts. That last point is especially important—it’s one thing to show a family’s love through the lengths they go to to protect one another, or through how they come together in their hard-fought moments of peace. It’s something else entirely to depict the twins lashing out at their parents over a lifetime of lies, and the parents’ flailing attempts to justify themselves, without losing sight of the love that invokes such strong reactions in the first place. That’s something Dryad does incredibly well.

The other thing it does really well is something that’s hard to talk about without diving head-first into a pretty major spoiler. So instead of trying to talk around it, I’m going to do just that.

Spoiler warning: major spoilers for Dryad Vol 1 follow in the next couple of paragraphs.

From the outset, Dryad‘s world looks like a typical medieval-inspired fantasy setting. Until a bunch of mercenaries toting huge guns and cybernetic enhancements attack Frostbrook, and the Glasses get captured and taken back to the high-tech city that Morgan and Yale hail from. Dryad is a fantasy story, sure, but it’s a Shadowrun style of fantasy, orcs and elves all running around a cyberpunk world. Frostbrook is an isolated community trying to escape that world and return to the ways of the past—hence the appearance of a classic fantasy setting, at least until the shit hits the fan.

You can understand, then, why Griffon and Rana would be so upset. It’s not just that their parents lied to them about who they were in the past, but about the entire state of the world. A world you know is confusing enough to navigate as a teenager, let alone one so completely removed from everything you thought you knew. It’s far more than just a plot twist for a plot twist’s sake; Dryad‘s big bait-and-switch cuts right to the heart of the story that Wiebe and Barcelo set out to tell.

End of spoilers

Dryad Vol 1 is the start of an enchanting new adventure from Kurtis J. Wiebe and Justin Barcelo. Sharp writing and gorgeous art come together to tell a story that cleverly bends genre expectations, that delivers plenty of action and excitement, but, most of all, that looks at how love can hold a family together when the whole world is against them.

Score: 4.5 stars

Dryad Vol. 1 collects issues #1 to #5 of Dryad by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Justin Barcelo, published by Oni Press. It releases on 5 January 2021.

A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.


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About Author

Matthew is a writer based in Wellington. He loves all things pop culture, and is fascinated by its place in history and the wider social context.