The War at Ellsmere

The War at EllsmereSummary: Zombies Calling creator Faith Erin Hicks brings her manga-fueled art style and pop-culture sensibilities to girl’s boarding schools in her latest book The War at Ellsmere. Jun is the newest scholarship student at the prestigious Ellsmere girls’ boarding school – but to a lot of the privileged rich girls, “scholarship student” is just a code for “charity case.” Fortunately, Jun has an ally in the quirky Cassie, who swears the stories about the man-eating unicorn that lives in the forest outside of the school are true. Between queen bees and mythical beasts, Jun has quite the school year ahead of her.

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The War at Ellsmere, by Faith Erin Hicks 6.5

After having read ‘Zombies Calling‘, ‘Friends with Boys‘ and ‘Superhero Girl‘ by Hicks, I was easily tempted to read more of her works; I like that her stories are female character-driven and have a geeky quality about them. So I requested everything library had.

Unfortunately, I found myself unmoved by ‘The War at Ellsmere’, which follows the struggles of Juniper, a 13-year-old who’s just transferred to a posh private school for girls and has to contend with bullies. Oh, and a mysterious presence in the nearby woods.

Frankly, I found the story a little bland, run-of-the-mill. Look, the whole new-kid-at-school-who-goes-head-to-head-with-the-school-bully-who’s-also-top-pedigree thing has been done to death. But that’s hardly the only example (ex: she befriends the school outcast).

I also couldn’t really relate to any of the characters for some reason – even though there’s a lot of characterization and I usually find teenagers easy to relate to. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but their dreams and demons failed to reach me in any significant way.

I also found the conflicts a bit simplistic. For instance, when Juniper is being set up by Emily, she could easily have  demonstrated that she was the victim, not the perpetrator. Further to that, I couldn’t believe that Emily’s rep was so clean, given all the bullying she did.

But there you have it.

Really, ‘The War at Ellsmere’ felt like the beginning of a series, like a set-up, and not so much like a story proper. In fact, the ending pretty much leaves the door wide open for sequels and isn’t a satisfactory conclusion to this particular story. And yet no sequel ever followed.

So, although I would have liked to treasure this book, it was just not possible. Naturally, I appreciated Hicks’ slick black and white artwork. But it’s wasn’t enough to engage me: there are plenty of books featuring great art, but there’s more to a graphic novel than the graphics.

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