Fresh characterizations give new life to a story about a young girl’s journey to become a knight.
To quote Dictionary.com, a “squire” is “a young man of noble birth who as an aspirant to knighthood served a knight.” Merriam Webster’s definition stays somewhat gender neutral, but Oxford Languages also specifies “nobleman.”
In Nadia Shammas and Sara Alfageeh’s fantasy graphic novel, Squire, the only requirement to enlist in the Bayt-Sajji army is that applicants be between twelve and seventeen years old. If it weren’t for her parents, Aiza would’ve signed up years ago, but while the army might make a show of welcoming applicants from all of the empire’s conquered territories, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t discriminate against them in private.
Even before readers are made aware of its significance, Alfageeh casually draws attention to the tattoo on Aiza’s right wrist. It would be easy to cover-up. All it would take is wearing long sleeves, yet there’s a deliberateness to the fact that her shirt has three quarter length sleeves instead. Aiza’s tattoo is meant to be visible, as a sign that she’s from the Ornu community. Her family has tattoos, too, but in order to be comfortable with Aiza joining the military they have her promise to keep her tattoo covered up.
Squire doesn’t spend a lot of time with Aiza at home before she goes into training, so there’s not a lot of time to get to hear from the Ornu people about how they feel about their occupiers or to know what Aiza has been told about them. It might’ve been nice if this section had been longer, to get to understand where Aiza’s coming from. The only people we hear from are her parents, and they’re not necessarily the most objective (at least not in Aiza’s eyes) and Aiza seems pretty unsuspecting.
The need to hide her tattoo is certainly a red flag, especially since it’s not like Aiza hasn’t experienced prejudice before. This readers are shown, so the fact that the military calls for more precautions is immediately concerning, but Aiza seems to trust the military to come through on their promises, and they put on a good front. Thanks to Alfageeh’s colors (with color assists by Lynette Wong) it’s immediately obvious what Aiza sees in the recruiters and why they’re so convincing. They look impressive on their camels and horseback and their uniforms are the opposite of drab, with multiple, rich colors. The crowds around them look washed out by comparison.
Shammas’ characterizations might be the most exciting part about Squire. Husni is the first person Aiza strikes a friendship with and while their class differences are apparent from the start (they start talking because Husni is worried about his silk pants and later Alfageeh acknowledges Husni’s privilege by having him sleep with a blanket, while Aiza uses clothes), it never effects their friendship. Sahar is another great character, because while she gets the typical bully entrance (arguing with Aiza over who has to sleep on the ground), it quickly turns out to be tough love, not cruelty.
Squire is out now from Quill Tree Books.