Foiled is a graphic novel written by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Mike Cavallaro. I picked it up at the library when I was looking for a standalone graphic novel and it was one of the only ones; most were all part of a long series. I didn’t know what to think at the time, because I don’t know much about fencing; however, I saw a sword and dragon on the back cover and was sold on it.
The novel is about a high school girl named Aleria who is a talented fencer. When the novel opens, it appears that you will be reading a lot about fencing, but it is actually the story about Aleria told through the terms of fencing, which I found very clever. Aleria opens the story by stating that she will tell about her date with a boy from school named Avery. The novel then uses her love of fencing to tell lead up to the date. We find out that in addition to fencing, Aleria also plays RPGs every Saturday night, and, like every other teenage girl, she doesn’t feel like she fits in at school. This sounds very generic, but the story takes an interesting twist, which makes it absolutely worth reading.
The part of the story I liked most was the way it intermixed awkward teenage years and dating with fencing. I don’t know much about fencing myself, but I found it thoroughly enjoyable. Each chapter is titled after a move or aspect of fencing, which then relates to the actions in that chapter. It is another great way it weaves fencing throughout the story, without feeling overwhelming to someone who is unfamiliar. Aleria also explains several of the references so you never feel like you don’t understand what she is referring to.
My only minor complaint is that, while interesting, the story starts off just a bit slow. It has to take enough time to give you her background and why fencing is so important to her, but as soon as that is over it picks up very quickly.
Aleria, the main character, was one of the most likeable female protaganists that I’ve come across. She does have some cliche aspects, like not fitting in and being attracted to the hot guy at school, but she has enough uniqueness that these are easily overlooked. Also, instead of pining for the guy or complaining she doesn’t fit in, she creates a place for herself. Aleria comes across as a very strong female character through her fencing taking her to nationals and her independence. She talks about beating guys and girls of all ages at her fencing matches, which shows her strength. However, she is also very humble.
Every Saturday she plays an RPG with her cousine Caroline, who is stuck in a wheelchair. She makes a point to state that Caroline is the strong one, despite her disability. This is a delightful reversal of the roles. While her RPG-playing seems subtle at the time, it ends up playing a huge role in the story. And the RPGs? Aleria is a nerd after my own heart. She is a protagonist both guys and girls could relate to and enjoy reading about.
I won’t get into details of the rest of the characters, but I will say that each character played a role that at first appears superficial, but you later find out they have a deep connection to the story. I loved how each character was clearly there for a reason.
I really had no complaints about the graphics or writing style. The graphics added to the story. We are told Aleria is color-blind, so the gray artwork is there to show the world how she sees it, which I found very clever. The art itself, adds depth to the story and the many angles it contains. Her expressions are well-done, so you can always understand how she really feels.
As far as the writing style goes, I was impressed with the amount of symbolism and the way the story was weaved. Simple lines have much more meaning than you initially realize and the story is setup to go full-cirle. From the overall plot down to each individual sentence, it is crafted poetically. The way the sentences are displayed on the page, along with the artwork, adds drama and a very enjoyable aesthetic aspect to an already great novel.
Bottom Line (4.8/5)
Foiled is a fantastic graphic novel, that I could read over and over again. The style, characters and artwork flow together for a compelling story that everyone can enjoy.
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