Foiled by Jane Yolen and Mike Cavallaro: B-

From the front flap:
Aliera Carstairs doesn’t fit in. She’s invisible at high school. She’s too visible at the fencing gym. Aliera’s starting to wonder… where does she belong?

Tenth grader Aliera Carstairs has established a routine: go to school, go to fencing class, go home. On Saturdays she plays a table-top RPG with her wheelchair-bound cousin, Caroline. She’s exceptionally good at fencing, but that doesn’t seem to matter much in her daily life, the drabness of which is conveyed by the art’s uniformly greenish-grey color scheme (also indicative of Aliera’s color blindness). When a cute boy named Avery Castle transfers into her high school and is assigned as her lab partner, Aliera forgets the golden rule of fencing: protect your heart.

While Aliera begins to fall for Avery despite some decidedly odd behavior on his part, she’s also ruminating a lot on her new practice foil, a $2 find (complete with gaudy “ruby”) that has helped improve her skills. One day, as she’s waiting in Grand Central Station for a tardy Avery to show up to a movie date, Aliera puts on her fencing mask to protect herself from a dive-bombing bird and can suddenly see a plethora of colorful fantasy creatures mingling with the ordinary travelers. She must immediately dispel some kind of evil cloud with her bejeweled foil, learns Avery’s secret (spoiled by Jane Yolen’s thank-you section in the front of the book), and is told that she’s a Defender of the Kingdom of Helfdon, but must receive more details from a Slayer. Or something.

I would like to say that Foiled is a story about a lonely girl finding her place, except she doesn’t quite manage to do so. Instead, it’s more of a prologue to a story about a lonely girl finding her place. I can only assume a sequel will follow. Not that Foiled isn’t enjoyable on its own, however. Aliera is a wry narrator with a conversational style and, though I do not get at all why she thinks Avery is dreamy when he obviously enjoys dissecting a frog way too much, I can sympathize with her excitement that any boy, let alone a cute one, has finally noticed her.

My main problem with the book is the somewhat jerky pace of the narrative. Some scenes are a little too choppy, some scenes of bickering between Aliera and Avery go on a little too long, and at one point, Aliera asks Avery, “What was that all about—the rats, the green glass crown?” except we haven’t seen a green glass crown! I can only assume that something was cut and an editor didn’t catch this reference. The cliffhanger—we end with many unanswered questions about Aliera’s role as Defender—is also awkwardly executed; even just a little more resolution would’ve made it feel like Foiled had functioned like a self-contained story while sustaining a sense of momentum going forward.

If a sequel to Foiled is released, I’ll read it. Perhaps I’ll appreciate this prologue more when I can actually see where it’s headed.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

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  1. Nice in-depth review.

    Just a comment:
    Page 137, panel 4: The tiny rat near Avery’s forearm is wearing a crown.
    Page 137, panel 5: Close-up on Avery and the rat from the previous panel. Although seen from behind, we can clearly see the crown.

    • Michelle says

      Ohhhhh! You know, I saw that thing on the rat’s head! I guess I couldn’t tell exactly what it was. Thanks!

  2. Do you think the choppiness is a result of Yolen not being a comic writer? (Or even a screenwriter… I’d have to think that screenwriting would translate better to the comic form than novels would)

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