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That there is a world below ours, full of lives unlike our own, is not a new idea in fiction. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not an idea worth imagining now and again. Writer and Illustrator Ethan M. Aldridge brings middle-grade readers to the World Below in ESTRANGED, a fantasy graphic novel about family, identity, bravery and adventure.

The Childe has always known he was different: a human changeling and oddity in his adopted parent’s royal Fay court. The King and Queen parade him around in front of guests but have never even named him, much less expressed fondness for him. His only kind companions are a wax golem created to protect him and the nanny that essentially raised him. When his aunt, the angry and powerful Hawthorne, returns from exile, she turns the King and Queen into rats and puts herself on the throne. The Childe escapes and along with the golem Whick, sets out to find the one person his thinks may be able to help; the Fay child he changed places with.

"A lush book punctuated by declarations and assertions that tell a compelling story of characters placed in dire and dangerous circumstances....ESTRANGED is...exciting, bittersweet, thoughtful and a pleasure to look at."

Edmund has always known he was different: a Fay changeling living with a human family in the World Above. He has magic that is getting harder to hide and control and is hounded by bullies. He knows he doesn’t fit in but doesn’t know what he can do about it. Now even his human parents and older sister, Alexis, are growing concerned.

When the two boys meet and when their two worlds collide it is shocking and uncomfortable for them both. They are confronted with questions about identity and belonging. But they also must work together to save the World Below from Hawthorne. They begin a perilous journey, accompanied by Whick and Alexis, hoping to catch Hawthorne by surprise. For Edmund, it is his first return home since he was swapped for the Childe, and for the Childe it is an opportunity to gain perspective on the places and creatures in the World Below that were unfamiliar even to him.

ESTRANGED is a book of parallels. Obviously Edmund and the Childe are parallel characters, fractured reflections of each other. The two worlds, the one above and the one below, are mirrored images as well. Aldridge uses visual cues to point out the differences and similarities between the boys and the worlds they know to great effect. Interesting contrasts are found in the secondary characters; the two sets of parents, as well as Hawthorne with a powerful witch named Artemis. Figures like Alexis, Whick, the Childe’s nanny and another changeling named Isaac all provide the unconditional love and guidance that the boys need on their journey which is more than physical, but emotional as well.

Aldridge favors illustrations over text. His style, rendered in ink and watercolor, is sketchy and busy, offering tone and mood over precise detail.  There is not a lot of dialogue and no objective narration. The result is a lush book punctuated by declarations and assertions that tell a compelling story of characters placed in dire and dangerous circumstances. Aldridge successfully couples the emotional trauma of Edmund and the Childe with the peril they find themselves in as they battle for the World Below and attempt to understand who they really are.

ESTRANGED is a well done book; exciting, bittersweet, thoughtful and a pleasure to look at.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on August 20, 2018

by Ethan M. Aldridge