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.


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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