I’ve finally finished the remaining available volumes of Saga. At the end of Four I was devastated, I both simultaneously wanted to start the next volume immediately and knew I wasn’t emotionally ready for it. Instead, I went on vacation, came back, and then slowly continued my journey through Hazel’s story. These books continue to be fantastic and I am in awe of what Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples partnership has managed to accomplish.
*As a note, I am refusing to grade these against themselves, they are collectively some of the best storytelling I have read this year and they will all be given five stars, regardless of swings in execution from volume to volume.
We pick up with Gwendolyn, Sophie, Lying Cat and The Brand are looking for the ingredients to a cure for The Will. Marko’s uneasy alliance with Prince Robot IV to find their missing children is underway (and it is just as awesome as I hoped). The children, Alanna, and Marko’s mom are with their kidnapper and other terrifying new enemies who bring an entire new area of danger to light. There is simply no end in sight to the struggle Alana and Marko will continue to endure to protect and rebuild their family, welcome to the middle of the story.
While there are arguably only a couple of main characters in Saga the “supporting” characters are just as well-developed, sympathetic, and alive as Alanna and Marko. Gwendolyn has grown on me, my interest in her story growing as she moves away from being revenge driven. In this chapter she is something extra, something more. She’s tough as nails, and a part of that strength is built from rage, the rage she feels at the entire situation she is in, but that she tamps down. I understand her rage, viscerally. Her emotions can cause her to think and act rashly; she clearly isn’t whole, but isn’t portrayed as broken. She never falls to pieces; none of our characters do because even while strong, terrible, dramatic things are happening our brains are capable of processing them alongside the other more mundane needs to keep us functioning. The focus of this part of the story is personal, but the scope of the story is growing and becoming the epic and galactic space opera we’ve been building towards to this point. While Gwendolyn is a great example of the complexity of the characters Vaughan and Staples are creating, she’s merely a small part of the impossibly grand character driven saga that we are being told.
After a time jump (which, was devastating), we join Hazel and her grandmother in detention. Hazel is in kindergarten, no longer a cute chubby bundle, and we are treated to both the Hazel on the page and the Hazel in the narration. She’s her own person with her own mind and ability to make decisions now and is now an active part of the story. I loved her storyline, particularly when she meets a prisoner who is transgender, Petrichor, and that experience prompts her to tell her teacher about being “half-wings, half-horns”. The relationship between Petrichor and Hazel grows to be an important outlet for our little adventurer.
Meanwhile, her parents have been non-stop searching for her, and as we rejoin them they are finally close to finding Hazel. Also reappearing in the story (although not missed and I’m liking them less and less as they reappear) are the tabloid journalists, freed from the embargo put on them by The Brand and off looking for the scoop of the century. We get to see The Will again and he’s not in a good place. I can see where some might see this volume as filler. I disagree. Sure, it isn’t full of huge action pieces (well, we get a couple) but several of the story lines from earlier volumes are paying off, and this volume is the end of the bridge that began at the end of Volume Four.
I wanted to rate this book four stars, right until the very end and the team of Vaughan and Staples kicked me in the feelings and five stars it was. Finally reunited with her ever-expanding family (and boy do I love the work being done on the definition of family in this series), Hazel travels to a war-torn comet that Wreath and Landfall have been battling over for ages. This volume is about families, combat and the refugee experience, and it’s a doozy. Our band of misfits have taken up residence on Phang, where Sophie was originally from before being sold as a slave. It is not a nice place, and what was supposed to be a quick stop to refuel turns into months as they all settle in and make do with the choices they’ve made thus far. The focus of the story is Hazel and it’s striking to see evidence of her childhood, even as it’s directly contrasted with terrible, adult things happening all around her. Fleeting childhood friendship, first kisses, and the impending birth of a sibling are presented side by side with hunger and poverty, refugees, and violent, senseless death. We learn that the war is becoming more complex and people are starting to be seen as either resources or liabilities, and that diplomacy is going to matter more and more.
After the traumatic events on Phang, Hazel, her parents, and their surviving companions embark to the westernmost edge of the universe to deal with the events from Volume Seven, and some of them are having a harder time than others. The lingering pregnancy externalized the internal grief they’re feeling, both in the literal ways we see Alanna struggle but also in the reactions of Petrichor and Prince Robot. We also take a side trip to see what The Will is up to, and I want that man to get his shit together very, very badly. I’m done with The Stalk, with his “visions” while high, and with him running away from his emotions. I need The Will to get back to himself, desperately. It’s time for him to get on the right side of things, (well, his right side of things) and stop wallowing. We also get back to Ghüs and the princeling, and they’ve been suffering while everyone’s been working their way back to them after finding Hazel. This part probably could have been brought in earlier to keep the pacing up, but I get leaving it where it is. The ending of this volume suggests a pretty big change in the narrative going forward, and I am very eager to see where the journey takes us next.
On the whole, this series is sophisticated but isn’t afraid to be crass. It is complex and a bit bizarre yet it feels as familiar as my own face. There is a sense that each storyline is part of this grand whole that is only slowly being revealed to the reader, that we’ve still only barely scratched the surface. We will likely never see the real whole, because the worlds created by Vaughan and Staples are too rich. But we are given these characters to hold onto, and it’s through them that we can see the larger things their creators are concerned with: family, love, and meditations on war and violence begetting nothing but more violence. I liked the grey areas that Vaughan and Staples are working in, and they appear to as well. Now I wait like everyone else for Volume Nine (out in October!) and then truly suffer as the wait for Ten inevitably begins.