Advance Review: Grabbing Adventure By The (Bull’s) Horns With The Seaton Sisters’ Norroway

by Rachel Bellwoar

For those unfamiliar with the story of the Black Bull (and I’m not familiar with it myself), Kit and Cat Seaton’s Norroway could be reduced to a Scottish Beauty and the Beast. What that description critically ignores, though, is the journey Sibylla goes on when her husband of prophecy, the Black Bull, shows up at her door and tells her to grab her things.

Consider the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast. Belle and Beast spend most of that movie forced to live in the same house. It’s a castle, so it’s not like they’re tripping on each other’s toes, but the isolated, semi-close quarters lead them to develop feelings for each other and, eventually, turns the Beast back into a man.

From the moment Sibylla and Brom meet they’re on the road. Luckily, Sibylla isn’t entirely unprepared for this response. When she was a little girl she went with her sisters to Miss Witch’s house to get their fortunes told. Sibylla wanted to ask about sailing a ship, but her sisters convinced her to ask about marriage instead, and it’s there that she learned she was destined to marry a bull.
The exact nature of the bull and his curse is a work in progress (the Seaton sisters plan for Norroway to be a series of graphic novels) but we’re originally told Brom was a knight. When his father, the king, grew fearful of his son’s ferocity, he sacrificed his daughter so that the Old One could turn Brom into a bull (for the telling of this story no speech bubbles are used, so when Kit gets to the sacrifice, it’s like the most unforgiving children’s book illustration in the best possible way).

Now that Brom has picked up Sibylla, he’s ready to continue his search for the Old One so that he can break the curse that’s been holding he and his siblings back. Structured like the Odyssey, Norroway is never one note. Each episode has a different tone and if the variety makes it so that you end up preferring certain sections to others, it’s also significant of Cat’s writing keeping you on your toes.
Starting with Sibylla’s childhood, there’s something of Disney’s Tarzan to this part. Kit gives Sibylla the same untamed appearance and expressions as the young jungle boy. She’s always having to race to try and keep up with her sisters (at one point, she’s so far behind that she’s in the page gutters) but, in times of adventure, Sibylla’s allowed to take the lead and does so happily.
Then there’s the section when Sibylla and Brom start their travels together. Their battle of wills is classic, romantic comedy, but Cat adds flourishes of whimsy, too, like a trick for getting food that’s out of Mary Poppins. Brom can’t feed himself — the trick is meant to serve others — but the catch proves even a cursed bull isn’t meant to go without companionship.

Two of Brom’s siblings are introduced in this volume. What makes their interactions so different is that Sibylla is separated from Brom for most of the time she’s with his brother, while with Brom’s sister, Brom’s there to defend himself. The former is less satisfying because you’re only getting one side of the story and that’s what Sibylla wants: the ever-elusive, whole story.
That she has to keep settling for less is one drawback to Norroway being an ongoing series. You’re not going to get it this time around, but for a story spurred on by a prophecy, choice gets emphasized more than you’d think. Class issues and prejudices also come up. The world of white wigs feels so alien to Sibylla’s, that when her sisters are wearing them at their weddings you’re reminded that these histories coexist. Emphasizing the Black Bull at the center of it all, Kit’s colors often fall on a black base, like scratch art, or pottery glaze after its been heated by a kiln. For a story filled to the brim with fiery characters, it’s rather appropriate.
If Norroway were a TV show, I’d say wait to binge it, because it’s going to be a while before we find out what happens [NOTE: I don’t actually know this — volume two hasn’t been announced — but the ending leaves unfinished business, so it’s going to feel like a wait regardless] but Norroway goes on sale November 7th from Image Comics and does what few fairy tales can — offers surprises.

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