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When a culture is repressive towards women or queers, I figure it is usually reacting against something (or someone) strong it wishes to suppress. So for instance, when I read Biblical or Islamic rules meant to keep women in their place, I can’t help but wonder what kind of powerful, intelligent, agile women existed before these religions, that required such harsh, bigoted sanctions to shut them down. Unfortunately, many of the old tales to tell us got lost or were never recorded in the first place, given that keeping women illiterate was part of the sanction. Queers, women and other minorities are constantly in search of our lost history. We’ve also become masters at creating our own alternative histories to fill in the void, when all legends seem to belong to someone else.
Welcome Bold Riley, Leia Weathington’s swashbuckling heroine. Bold Riley is the nickname of Rilavashana SanParite, daughter of the king of Prakkalore. These tales are set in a pseudo-Indian historical land; think “Silk Road Weekend” at the Renn Fest, where characters speak in archaic sounding but understandable English, wear silks and saris, and tuck long, curved swords into their brightly colored sashes, just in case.
Growing up, Riley excels in all things lesbian: she hunts wild game, flirts with all the pretty girls and makes them blush, and shocks visiting dignitaries with ribald tales. But her eye is always on the horizon. She feels restless; she needs to move.
Her father grants her the right to fulfill her wanderlust, and the adventures that follow are the tales of this graphic novel. Originally published as separate books, this book collects stories with artwork by six different artists including Weathington. All the stories are good fun, but my favorite was “Serpent in the Belly,” a tale about a man who seems the perfect partner for several women, until his avarice and cruelty surface and the evil serpent in his belly is revealed. Jason Thompson’s art and colorist Vanessa Gilling’s subtle use of browns and golds made this story especially rich.
In true picaresque form, Riley wanders the countryside, never knowing what adventures might surprise her on the other side of a hill. She’s bold, funny, sexy, and a good companion. She outwits the stupid horned monsters called the Morishaksa, she visits a wicked temple where she’s haunted by seductive wraiths, and she even manages to fall in love, only to discover her girlfriend is tortured by a fatal secret.
The foreword, written by Jane Espenson, is meant to connect Buffy fans to this work. But I’d also channel the ancient cult of Xena Warrior Princess, a similar lesbian-loved, humor-filled saga of ancient sisterhood, whose followers might equally fall in love with Bold Riley’s exploits. And, teen dykes into fantasy: don’t miss this one! This graphic novel will rock your castle walls!
The Legend of Bold Riley
By Leia Weathington with Jason Thompson (Illustrator), Marco Aidala (Illustrator), and Vanessa Gillings (Illustrator)
Paperback, 9780984594054, 232 pp.