In a summer filled with the likes of Katniss Everdeen, Avatar Korra and Princess Merida, female adventurers have proved there’s no gender requirement to join the hero’s journey mythos. There is perhaps no better time, then, to welcome Leia Weathington‘s Bold Riley to the monomyth pantheon. A clever and immensely readable collection of tales, The Legend of Bold Riley is a must-have not only for fans of classic storytelling, but anyone who enjoys a great adventure.
As a kid, I remember reading stories and myths from The Arabian Nights, Baba Yaga, Grimm and Edith Hamilton and being captivated by the stalwart and level-headed heroes, their harrowing adventures, and the magical or mystical creatures they encountered along the way. Successful storytelling of this nature does quite a lot in a short amount of time or pages, relying on the shared experiences of readers to make a story at once new and yet universal.
It is into this rich tradition that The Legend of Bold Riley is born. Weathington builds a strong and believable protagonist in Rilavashana (aka Bold Riley), the daughter of the reigning family of Pakkalore, a rich and beautiful land described only as “far to the east.” Riley is no ordinary fairytale princess, though. She is smart, beautiful and restless, yearning for adventure and a chance to see the world. At this point, a Disney princess would sing a song about it, have an adventure, then settle down and marry a prince. Riley is different, though. First, you don’t become a legend by having only one adventure. Second, she’s much more likely to settle down with another princess than a prince.
Weathington introduces Riley’s sexuality in a very matter-of-fact way, and Riley is known as much for her skills with the ladies as she is with a sword. While romance has its place in Riley’s adventures, her sexuality is never the story itself. It’s a refreshing course in LGBTQ literature, where coming out is a tale somewhere in the past (or requires no tale at all), and what matters most are the adventures to be had at present.
The Legend of Bold Riley contains five of Riley’s adventures, as well as a prologue. The prologue introduces Riley, her family, and sets up her departure from royal life, into her adventures. These sorts of stories cry out for a framing conceit of some kind, a narrator (or several) who tell the stories to entertain a king, pass the time, or instruct children. However, the prologue accomplishes getting Riley on the road, which is all we really need. In each tale, Riley uses her wits, bravery and skills to overcome her foes and save those who need her help. So while the basic setup follows the traditions of hero storytelling, Weathington manages to imbue each tale with its own unique charm and tone. “The Blue God” and “The Strange Bath” are more whimsical in nature, while “The Serpent in the Belly” and “The Wicked Temple” are darker and more harrowing. The final tale in the collection, “The Golden Trumpet Tree,” tests Riley in ways she’s never encountered before, as heartbreak and loss become the first foes she can’t overcome.
Weathington shares art duties with Kelly McClellan, Vanessa Gillings, Jason Thompson, Marco Aidala, Konstantin Pogorelov and Liz Conley. The different artists and art styles give each tale a distinct personality. While each is splendid to look at and serves Riley’s adventures well, a couple really stand out. Thompson’s detailed work brings Weathington’s rich dialogue and world to vivid life in “The Serpent in the Belly;” and Pogorelov’s illustrations and Conley’s subdued colors create a haunting and terrifying mood in “The Wicked Temple.”
What Weathington has done in creating postmodern folklore is no easy feat. Her narration and dialogue are impressively consistent, with just the right amount of floral language (and a hint of academic translation) to recreate and reinvent the familiar text of these kinds of tales. Weathington doesn’t waste a single word, which makes the text infinitely readable, especially out loud (which I recommend). In her forward for the book, Jane Espenson writes, “Has there really been no Legend of Bold Riley before this? Rilavashana’s particular brave heart is new to us, but the role of traveling hero fits her so naturally that it feels as if she must have been a literary friend forever.”
That Bold Riley is brave and strong is no surprise. That’s she’s also loving, generous and flawed makes her a hero for the ages. A true legend.