Gunnerkrigg Court Volume 1: Orientation by Thomas Siddell

The Blurb On The Back:

Antimony Carver is a precocious and preternaturally self-possessed young girl starting her first year of school at gloomy Gunnerkrigg Court, a very British boarding school that has robots running around alongside body-snatching demons, forest gods, and the odd mythical creature.

The opening volume in the series follows Antimony through her orientation year: the people she meets, the strange things that happen, and the things she causes to happen as she and her new friend, Kat, unravel the mysteries of the Court and deal with the everyday adventures of growing up. 

You can order Gunnerkrigg Court Volume 1: Orientation by Thomas Siddell from Amazon UK, or Waterstone’s.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

11 year-old Antimony “Annie” Carver is sent to Gunnerkrigg Court (an unusual boarding school where extraordinary science and engineering achievements meet with magic and myth) after the death of her mother from a long-term illness.  Intelligent, studious and very self-possessed, it nevertheless takes time for Annie to settle into Gunnerkrigg Court and its unusual ways and people such as the minotaur in the library, a demon called Reynardine that’s taken over the body of a dragon and the ghost that just wants to scare the students but keeps coming up short.  

With the help of fellow student, Katerina ‘Kat’ Donlan (a talented scientist and engineer), she slowly begins to settle in.  But Gunnerkrigg Court contains mysteries upon mysteries, most notably why students are prohibited from Gillitie Wood and what connection did Annie’s parents have to the school and to the other teachers?  One thing’s for sure: it’s going to be an interesting year of orientation …

Thomas Siddell’s popular, award-winning comic has been collected into this delightful volume (the first in a series).  It’s a slow burning story that’s largely there to set-up the overriding story but it combines imaginative fantasy and science fiction with a dry and whimsical sense of humour and an underlying sense of mystery that kept me thoroughly engrossed from beginning to end.  

Antimony is a fascinating main character – an unusual child who is confident enough to stand up for herself and others and who has no issue with calmly taking down bullies or going against pervading popular opinion.  She behaves in a way that’s older than her years but this is partly explained by the fact that she spent so long in hospital with her mother while she was sick and also because she has some supernatural abilities of her own to see what others cannot.  I enjoyed her interactions with some of the Court’s residents, e.g. explaining to a ghost how to scare the children but especially her interactions with the enigmatic Reynardine who had some kind of relationship with her mother and has an agenda of his own but who still seems to feel protective of her and while she’s cautious around him, she also gives him his own space.  Her friendship with Kat is also a lot of fun – Kat’s enthusiasm and science skills forming a neat counterpoint to Annie’s.  A storyline involving Kat getting a crush on another student is particularly well done and very moving.

The story is slow to get moving and there’s a lot of set-up and mystery – notably an adventure to the moon, which raises a number of questions – but mainly involving the group that Annie’s parents were part of and just what they were doing.  It isn’t until the final quarter that the uneasy relationship with Gillitie Wood is unveiled but while there’s a lot of set-up, much remains to be resolved and I look forward to seeing Annie take up Coyote’s offer of a visit there.

Siddell’s artwork is a treat and I thoroughly enjoyed the way he incorporates myth and legend – a scene involving a minotaur called Theo made me grin from beginning to end.  There’s also a lovely dry sense of whimsical humour that runs throughout the book and forms a neat mirror to the vague sense of danger and threat that’s also there.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this volume and will definitely check out Volume 2.  

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