Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Two Flowers for the Dragon, vol. 4

The story: Ten years ago, Lady Shakuya's fiance Lucien mysteriously disappeared without a trace and the Dragon Clan found their heir a new fiance, Kuwan. Now that Lucien has returned, she must choose between the two and Shakuya will marry whomever she loves most, as evidenced by the magical, floral tattoos that grow with her increasing adoration. This volume picks up where the last one left off with Kuwan injured after protecting Lady Shakuya in battle. While Shakuya nurses Kuwan back to health, Lucien regains his lost memories and the conspiracy against the Dragon Clan begins to unravel.

Reaction: This volume starts off sweetly enough, but gains some real depth from the political intrigue at volume's end. Lucien also experiences some much-needed growth, both as a character and in his love for Shakuya. I particularly liked the scene where the two acknowledge that they lack control over their lives. It's a bittersweet realization, especially since they are both so young. However, they're not so much resigned to their fates as they simply accept them, which is refreshing to see in a story revolving around young love.

Deep thoughts: Lucien's amnesia resolves itself in this volume, but his experience reminded me of a news article I read a couple of months ago. In it, an amnesia patient known simply as H.M. donated his brain to a new research library created at University of California San Diego. Since having an experimental brain surgery years ago, H.M. was never able to form new memories, making every experience new. His donation will allow researchers to better understand amnesia and memory loss.

Artwork: While Nari Kusakawa's artwork has improved over the course of this series (and the concurrent The Palette of 12 Secret Colors), some distorted faces still snuck in this volume. In one panel, the eyes of Shakuya's handmaid look crossed because of the severe slant. In another, Shakuya's face is squashed, making her look younger and slightly unattractive. However, these are minor distractions from Kusakawa's other handiwork. From the use of visual humor and other effects, like Shakuya's nearly blank, surprised eyes, to the Oriental architectural and ornate clothing, Kusakawa creates a unique world filled with interesting characters.

The verdict: Highly recommended. While the love triangle is the entertaining part of this story, the mystery behind Lucien's disappearance is the thinking part. Here, Kusakawa draws in readers with a one-of-a-kind story with great artwork, surprising twists and compelling characters. Two Flowers for the Dragon is available in the U.S. from CMX.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

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