Saturday, 1 November 2014

The Undertaking of Lily Chen by Danica Novgorodoff Review


In some parts of China some people believe that unmarried dead sons should be buried with a dead woman so they won’t be alone in the afterlife (I’m not sure if this is the case with unmarried dead daughters but given that Chinese society is patriarchal, I’m guessing no). 

After his older brother is accidentally killed it falls to Deshi Li to bring him a corpse bride within a week - either by grave-robbing or through even darker channels like murder! His search sends him deep into the countryside where he happens across Lily Chen, a girl desperate to escape her dead-end town and make a go of it in Shanghai. 

Danica Novgorodoff’s book is a pretty hefty volume checking in at 430+ pages but its still a quick read as there are a lot of silent pages and dialogue is kept to a minimum. The story itself is also fast-moving once Deshi’s quest is established with Deshi and Lily being chased by Lily’s dad, an unscrupulous grave-robber (though I don’t think there’s any other kind?) and time itself, as the clock ticks down to Deshi’s brother’s funeral. 

Despite spending hundreds of pages with Deshi and Lily, Novgorodoff doesn’t really develop them much. They remain almost exactly the same as when we first see them and they’re quite archetypical - Deshi is the weedy young man who’s gotten pushed around his whole life and is now trying to be “a man”, and Lily is the headstrong female character you’ve seen a million times before. 

I didn’t really felt like I got to know them and wasn’t really rooting for them to succeed even though I knew they would anyway. And that’s the other thing; besides the twists and turns of the story, you know exactly where it’ll end up the whole time. But it’s about the journey not the ending you say, and I agree, except the journey was fairly average really so a surprise ending could’ve really given it a boost. 

The art is the best part of the book, from the awesome death’s head cover to the inspired choice of mixing pen, inks and watercolours throughout. It’s easy to see why entire pages and chapters are given over to the art alone when its this accomplished. The character designs are a bit rudimentary and sit awkwardly alongside the beautiful landscape art, but they were expressive when they needed to be and weren’t bad as to detract from the story. 

What would’ve put this book over the top would be a strong main character, which I know Lily Chen was meant to be but she doesn’t fulfil that role. Half the time she seemed like a stupid opportunist which is hard to like. The art is wonderful while the story and characters are ok for the most part though I think most people will enjoy reading this regardless. The Undertaking of Lily Chen is a decent but flawed comic.

The Undertaking of Lily Chen

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