The Castoffs should have been a book I really enjoyed and respected: it has female protagonists fighting a mix of technology vs magic. Unfortunately, what I found was a story with all the cliches about female characters: they are incredibly girlie, they fight all the time for no reason (because ‘girls can’t have social groups without fighting’ cliche, I guess), and they are incredibly shallow and vapid. The story doesn’t really go anywhere, it’s hard to follow, it changes POV from first to third person randomly and inexplicably, no one acts logically, and I admittedly didn’t fall in love with the potato-shapes of the character designs either. It honestly was hard to plow through.
Story: Three female apprentice magic users are sent on a quest to help a group in need. Each apprentice has a bit of a stigma in their community (one is a passive aggressive and manipulative, one is overbearing, and one is a screw up). They aren’t told the true reason they are leaving together but they will find out once they arrive. They’ll pick up a random pet ‘cat’ thing along the way (because girls should always have a cliche pet cat, right?). They fight a ‘big bad’.
Graphic novels aimed at girls don’t have to be so shallow: even My Little Pony has some great moments of wit and witticism (with better empowerment messages). All that falls short here in order to pound a square plot through a round hole. Logic is thrown completely out the door in so many places, it’s frustrating (because, hey, they all have secrets they are hiding from each other for no good reason other than to create drama; and hey, if you send your apprentices on a very dangerous mission, make sure not to tell them the truth or any of the dangers; and hey, if you are going to supply one of them with potions that she has to carry around on her back, make sure there is a large vial of a love potion – always helpful to those who need medicine and great for a deus ex machina acquisition of a feral but cute pet).
The character designs are fairly flat with a very muted color scheme that fails to engage. I didn’t see a lot of synergy in the colors and kept wishing this was much brighter and more fun. In muting the colors of the potato-y characters, it made the story even blander and more insipid. If writers and illustrators want to make an impact, why not go the way of an Avatar: The Last Airbender in its rich worldbuilding and color story. Or, again, with the subtle tongue in cheek over the top wink wink fun of My Little Pony. It doesn’t have to be so shallow and the conflict doesn’t have to come with the girls fighting each other the whole way, nastily manipulating in the worst passive aggressive ugliness, or rushing headlong without thought. Why can’t girls be smart, work together, and solve bigger problems than petty conflicts through most of the journey?
Most problematic, however, are the panels. I had to reread pages several times just to understand what I was seeing. E.g., the story starts with us looking through a person’s opening eyes and then the last panel suddenly jumps to third person – and I had to keep going back and forth to figure out who was the person in the opening as a result. Other panel decisions also proved frustratingly difficult to decipher – enough so that I had no chance to really get into the story. There’s not a lot of creativity and interest in how this is laid out – it’s bland, jumpy, lacking smooth segues, and very unrewarding visually.
It’s frustrating to write a review like this because I love that we get comics for girls. But this is masquerading as empowerment and instead it pretty much showcases girls as stupid, petty, vapid, reasonless, and passive aggressive. In other words, all the cliches girls already have to fight in the modern age. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.