Book Review: Prince of Persia

Prince of Persia is a dreamy, jeweled treat of a graphic novel. It provides two stories interwoven throughout the book, alternately sad, romantic, momentous and light-hearted. The storyline does not strictly follow the video game series on which it is rather loosely based, but captures the flavor of that world filled with princes, adventure, and sand dunes.

It would be a mistake to dismiss this as another comic rip-off marketing scheme. Don’t think of this as a video-game adaptation, regardless of how much you may have loved the 1989 video game. This is a work of art unto itself.

First Second Books once again shows off their high production quality here. The pages are thick and glossy, with brilliant color. The softcover is attractive and sturdy with glittery gold foil detail; First Second produces the best-bound paperbacks I’ve seen. The endpaper is decorated with a lovely map. The more books I see from this publisher, the more I purchase, as much for the production quality as for their unusual art and narratives.

The script, developed by original the game developer Jordan Mechner and written by A. B. Sina, is lyrical and surprisingly funny by turns. At times, the shift between stories is difficult to detect—but this is part of the point. The dialog in a few scenes sounded a bit modern for the setting, but in its defense, the characters that spoke in this style were the ones I connected with most.

The art is simple and expressive, and is best displayed in the many sequences that are completely wordless. These read like poetry, and nontraditional panel shapes are used to great effect. LeUyen Pham and Alex Puvilland create memorable characters, and even produce a flicker of empathy for the villains. I love the loose, fluid feel of the line; it’s balanced with strong color that evokes various moods with alternating cool and warm palettes.

The violence is fittingly graphic and a few well-placed moments of horror give the story serious resonance. My favorite sequences were those that told portions of the backstory in a flat style that recalls medieval Persian illuminated manuscripts. These scenes conveyed the feeling of an ancient legend, while lending authenticity to the setting.

My only complaint is that the narrative runs a fine line between poetically ambiguous and frustratingly vague. The story feels pleasantly dreamlike, but on the last page I feel slightly dissatisfied, as if nothing has actually happened. The plot is circular rather than traditionally resolved… but in the end this is a good thing, as it encourages me to immediately pick it up for another reading.

If you’re looking for a fairy tale that has gravity enough for an adult, I highly recommend this novel. And do yourself a favor and buy a copy, because it’s a tale you’ll be returning to sooner than you think.

Note to parents: There are scenes with violence, including numerous beheadings, and some suggested nudity. Most of this is tamer in execution than I’ve seen in most graphic novels today, but the context of the action—killing infants, beheading women and the elderly, cutting out tongues and eyes—is such that it may be disturbing for young ones. No profanity here, but I’d still say this merits a PG-13 rating.

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