‘Sup readers? In a “better late than never” edition of On The Shelf— the book in question was released yesterday, and I only managed to get my grubby paws on it this morning— I bring you something new: a graphic anthology (how cool is that?) Anthologies aren’t usually my jam— I’d rather read a fully fleshed out complete story than a bunch of meandering little ones. Naturally, there are exceptions, but typically, I do have a bias— but history is, which made this week’s pick seem like it was fated to end up on my shelf.
But before we get into the review, I should tell you what it is you’re actually reading about. A Castle in England by Jamie Rhodes (with art by five unique talents) is a collection of five short stories centering around the real-life historical happenings of Scotney Castle in South East England. This relatively tiny book is stuffed with artistic flare: all of the illustration is rendered in (mostly) white, grey, and orange, the lettering, while difficult to read sometimes (particularly in “The Priest”), is gorgeous, and Rhodes went through a tremendous amount of detail to both map out family trees for his real-life characters, and provide historical context for the stories he chose. I really, really appreciate the effort, it shows on every page that A Castle in England is a collaborative labour of love.
Hands-down, my favourite art in the whole collection is by The Encyclopedia Of Early Earth author Isabel Greenberg (I’ve never checked out her stuff before, but you can bet I just bought myself a copy of her aforementioned work); Greenberg was not afraid to use eye-shockingly bold orange against stark whites and solid greys. If you were to buy this anthology solely for the art, hers would be a particular treat. I mean, they’re all great in their own way, but man, Greenberg’s was definitely the highlight.
The art in the physical copy is so much brighter, but it still looks stunning on a screen.
Rhodes took exquisite care to transport readers to the time periods he wrote about with his short but informative context writings and suggestions for further reading, and I have no doubt that true history buffs with already-solid background knowledge on Scotney Castle will enjoy this read immensely. But for those who picked up this book to get a taste of Scotney Castle: that’s all they’ll get. A small taste. The stories were too short, and largely felt impersonal, even with context given; the fact that these things did happen in Scotney’s history is eye-opening, but this book is the equivalent of a high school history lesson given on a PowerPoint by a classmate who was forced to pick a topic for their ISU: it looks pretty, the information’s all there, they’ll be getting a good grade for their mandated research (that barely skimmed the surface, but they had a due date, and all their other homework, and a social life, and… well, you get it), but aside from their fifteen-minute presentation, neither they nor the rest of the class is going to care about Scotney Castle by tomorrow.
If you’re passionate about history and the people in it, and you have a particular soft spot for Scotney Castle (which is less of a castle and more of a sprawling manor), A Castle in England is right up your alley. But if you’re like me, and you want meat with your potatoes, even if it makes the stories a bajillion times longer, so you can connect with what you’re reading, maybe this isn’t the book for you. I’m sure you can already guess, but A Castle in England won’t be sticking around on the shelf. Still, I know someone who will appreciate this very much, so that’s where my copy is going; if you think A Castle in England is right for you, check it out here.
On The Shelf rating: 2.5 important historical monuments out of 5.