Sometimes grief brings people together. Other times it tears families apart. Rozenn and Dahut may have never been close, but while there are aspects of The Daughters of Ys that might seem familiar (the recently dead mother; the sisters who don’t get along), there’s a lot about this princess story that’s new.
Namely, M.T. Anderson and Jo Rioux are willing to go dark with The Daughters of Ys and it changes the trajectory these stories usually take. Yes, ‘turning things dark’ is a trend right now but there’s a difference between making things aesthetically darker and showing people making decisions that aren’t heroic without remorse or a “changing your mind” moment. I’ve been watching a lot of She-Ra lately so maybe this is coming from that but Rozenn and Dahut are like She-Ra and Catra, if She-ra never made any effort to get Catra to join the Rebellion and leave the Horde.
Traditionally, Rozenn would be the sympathetic sibling. She loves nature and animals, has no interest in becoming queen, and tries to avoid attending royal functions. Dahut is more like her father, King Gradlon, in that she doesn’t mind the perks of being rich, but grief hits her hard… so much so that she ends up hurting a bird by accident and when she tries to go to the fields with Rozenn to nurse it, Rozenn refuses to let her come.
And that’s ok – when you think she’s coming back the next day – but silently, over a series of eight pages you realize Rozenn never came back. The bird healed and without having a conversation about it Rozenn decided her sister could handle court life by herself.
Rioux’s use of space in these scenes is incredible because, without dialogue, it’s all about showing the physical distance between them. Dahut is on the left page and Rozenn is on the right, and it’s the contrast that make these scenes so painful because they’re living parallel lives. There are quite a few silent scenes in The Daughters of Ys, where Rioux conveys what’s happening visually, and it’s scarier than speech because nothing can change unless someone speaks up (and even when Rozenn and Dahut do talk their conversations are disjointed, as Anderson shows how badly they listen to each other).
Staying might have been what was best for Rozenn, but she leaves her younger sister behind, and if Dahut makes some bad choices, it’s partly because she has no familial support. Their father’s a snake and it’s a shame the book isn’t able to get into his marriage with Queen Malgven more because, while it make sense that the book can’t really cover their relationship (since she’s already dead when the story begins) not knowing what life was like when she was alive means not getting to know stuff, like did Rozenn and Dahut grow apart because their mother died, or was that the last straw? As much as it would be nice to have answers, it’s also nice not knowing, too, because then people get to draw their own conclusions. No one is right or wrong.
The Daughters of Ys is available now from First Second. Having wanted to read this book because of films like Song of the Sea, I will warn that it isn’t really for kids. The age range (14-18) First Second gives is perfect, but since a lot of First Second’s titles are all-ages or younger it might not be obvious that this book is geared for teens and adults. If you’re interested in Irish folklore, the book includes a few sources at the end, too, so that’s a nice bonus.