Review: Zatanna: The Jewel of Gravesend by Alys Arden and Jacquelin de Leon

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cover of ZatanaZatanna: The Jewel of Gravesend by Alys Arden and Jacquelin de Leon
DC Comics (July 26, 2022)
208 pages; $16.99 paperback
Reviewed by Joshua Gage

Alys Arden was raised by the street performers, tea-leaf readers, and glittering drag queens of the New Orleans French Quarter. She cut her teeth on the streets of New York and has worked all around the world since. The Casquette Girls, her debut novel, garnered over one million reads online before it was acquired by Skyscape.

Jacquelin de Leon is an illustrator and comics artist currently located in San Jose, California. She graduated with a BFA in illustration and entertainment design from Laguna College of Art and Design. Since graduating in 2015 she has become an illustration brand, self-publishing multiple books and working full-time to produce for her online shop and her YouTube channel. When not working on major projects, her favorite subjects are vivid and magical mermaids, sultry witches, and tattooed punk girls with colored hair. Their most recent graphic novel is Zatanna: The Jewel of Gravesend.

Zatanna: The Jewel of Gravesend is a solid YA-dark fantasy. The titular character, Zatanna, is a private high school girl who spends her summer vacation living with her family on Coney Island. Her father is a world-renowned magician, and her boyfriend is the son of the local Russian mobster. Only not is all as it seems. When a competing magic show arrives on Coney Island, Zatanna starts seeing glowing letters appear, only backwards. Furthermore, the glowing letters seem to have their own magic, and Zatanna is able to perform actual spells, not the simple illusions of her father’s show. Slowly, the history of her powers is revealed, climaxing in a dark and deadly ending to the graphic novel. 

Zatanna: The Jewel of Gravesend works on many levels. Arden has written well-developed and identifiable characters. Zatanna isn’t exactly an outcast, but she’s certainly nerdy and quirky, especially when compared with the other girls at her school. Her misfit status works well in the story, and many teens will be able to identify with her or someone in her small circle of friends. Furthermore, the romance elements and the magic elements are well thought out, and nothing seems too cheesy or overwrought. YA audiences will be able to find this believable and understandable, as will most adult horror readers interested in dark fantasy YA work. Furthermore, while there is some suspense, there’s nothing here that a younger tween audience couldn’t understand, so there’s a lot of potential for readership here, and Arden is able to tap into emotions and feelings that various audiences will be able to identify with. On top of that, de Leon’s art is perfect for this book. It’s not too stylized, nor is it overly realistic, creating the perfect blend of comic fantasy and realism required for this tale. 

Zatanna: The Jewel of Gravesend is a well-crafted, well-developed YA story. There are elements of romance and teen angst, all wrapped up in a dark fantasy package full of mystery that teases the reader into wanting to discover the end of the tale. Alys Arden has crafted likable and relatable characters, and Jacquelin de Leon has brought them to life with solid and consistent artwork. Overall, this is a great dark fantasy and horror that YA audiences, as well as general adult audiences, will thoroughly enjoy.

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