Fantasies always seem to convey, by some intangible sensibility woven into the word, the idea of limitless, epic adventure where anything can happen, anyone can exist and the world can be anything and everything.
They are a feast for the imagination and that’s why they are seductive for so many people because they suggest that in midst of a fantasy all the leaden boundaries of the real and the everyday simply don’t exist with imagination lord and master above all.
But what about if the world you come from is fantastical to its very core, making it not the magical Other of our hopes and dreams but the very stuff of our day-to-day lives? Is there any scope for the adventure we all seem to crave deep in the bottomless reaches of our very selves?
It turns out there is, but be careful what you fervently wish for because as volume 2 of Wynd – The Secret of the Wings shows in stunningly immersive detail, while you may get adventurous moments on multitudinous detail, you will also get some truly dark and terrible moments and a searing window right into the very heart of the world around you, a spare-nothing view of reality that you might wish you had never had the misfortune to see.
As you might have realised already, The Secret of the Wings is every bit as ferociously and engagingly good a read as its predecessor, “Flight of the Prince” in which we met our eponymous protagonist who, in a city where magic is not simply banned but actively persecuted down to the last glimmer of mystical difference, stands apart as different from the other people around him.
Or rather, conspicuously does not, his pointed ears hidden from the world, a physical divergence from the norm that screams like a revelatory neon sign flashing with ceaseless and life-ruining vigour that here lies something that is most definitely not like the others.
And in a repressive place like Pipetown, ruled by the mad king Yossar who abhors magicality in all its forms, his guiding policy one of brutal opposition to its very existence, you do not want to be different, and if it is discovered you are, then you have no choice but to run, and to run fast and hard.
Which is precisely what Wynd, his adoptive sister Oakley – in the opening pages of the second volume, we flashback to his mother deciding to keep the magic-touched baby found in the woods, much to her husband’s almost physical unease (see below) – the palace groundkeeper’s hunky son Thorn (of whom Wynd has a sweetly vivid and distinctly horny fantasy all his own) and dissident Crown Prince Yorik who, for all his distasteful sense of superiority and entitlement, actually has the heart of a reformer.
Realised with art that brings the fractured kingdom of Esseriel to alternately vividly disturbing and awe-inspiring life, and which imbues it with an intimacy of emotion that fits neatly with the epic scope of the storytelling, The Secret of the Wings is a narrative continuation that actually works, adding to the story while giving the characters we have come to know and love continued and rich reasons to find a place in our hearts.
Yes, even Prince Yorik who, it turns out, may not be some loathsomely annoying after all.
He is, if nothing else, devoted to the welfare of his one and only friend Thorn who goes through the mill not once but twice in a story which sees danger ratchet up to mortality-threatening levels as war brews between humans, Faeries and Vampyres, all of whom have their own reasons, and potent mythology, to fear the others with whom they share a kingdom.
Yorik, like his mother who does not fare well when Yossar realise where her true dissident heart lies, wants a united Esseriel with everyone living together in kumbaya harmony, a form of idealism that no one else really seems to subscribe to, with millennia of mistrust and outright hatred brewing to the point where Wynd, who seems to become more magical with every page, his wings growing bigger and his allies all the more fantastical, and his family and friends have enemies and frenemies to the left and the right.
It makes for a thrillingly in-depth romp of a fantasy which is definitely imaginatively expansive but not the stuff of reality-busting legend that people usually associate with the word.
In fact, everyone’s lives seem to be under perpetual threat with scenes of expositional and emotional peacefulness counterposed with some intense action where the artwork of Michael Dialynas roars to the fore, the Vampyres all terrifying blackness of form and intent and the Faeries luminously otherworldly and more than a little over human’s propensity for disruption and destruction.
Throw in a simmering civil war between the humans as King Yossar’s brother the Duke plots to unite the cities of Northport and Pipetown into a war-worn whole, and The Secret of the Wings becomes a witches’ brew of intrigue and darkness, but also of the hopefulness and love lornness of people like Wynd who, in common with many of the lead characters, is refreshingly queer in ways that would no doubt upset Yossar every bit as much as their magicality.
The sense of welcome Otherness, welcome at least to those open to the idea that life is far from a binary idea of this and that, and queerness in The Secret of the Wings is everywhere, its every empathetically and richly depicted difference a recurrently reassuring theme through Wynd which sings the praise of the different and the divergent even as others decry it as a threat to the fabric of life itself.
Even as violence of a most terrible kind leaps from one narratively significant moment to the other, Wynd – The Secret of the Wings remains focused on the place of the different and the unusual in the grand scheme of things, infused always with an emotional intimacy and thoughtfulness that persists even as the action grows and grows in intensity and we realise, as we do with every great fantasy, that every moment of liberating self discovery is accompanied by evil most foul which no doubt will gain a horrifying foothold in volume three, no underway in single issue form, calling on our titular hero and his friends to be braver and more compassionate true to themselves than ever in a world where anything is possible but not always in the way you wish it to be.