When I read Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant, I couldn't wait for a sequel. But I had to.
And now that I have? I wish I hadn't been so excited. Perhaps, in the words of Miss Penelope Lumley, governess to the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, I was being optoomuchstic.
I read the first book when I was first dipping my toes in the waters of graphic novellandia. I'd no idea what was awesome art versus okay art versus bad art versus Rob Liefeld-hi-I-have-twenty-vertebrae art. Because my little brother is so into superhero comics, I didn't want that to be my thing. You know how people have things. I was cool. I was a librarian. I was going to fight for teens' right to read graphic novels. And now I'm reading Deadpool because it's hilarious, Ms. Marvel because it's smart and so important, and Lumberjanes because Noelle Stevenson. I've seen some truly horrific "comics" that I think were drawn in MS Paint and some of the most beautiful art on the printed page (hi, Jaimie McKelvie!).
So, in revisiting the world of Delilah Dirk, I see that while the first book did have a spark of something special, the second one decidedly does not. Rats.
In Delilah Dirk and the King's Shilling, Delilah and sidekick Selim end up in Portugal after romping across Europe for three years, pulling off heists and such. After rescuing a little boy from his father (whose main fault seems to be an overenthusiasm for archery), the two end up in an oh-so-clichéd river bathing scene. Here, they are surprised by English soldiers, who immediately assume that Delilah is a French spy.
Okay, let's back up here. It's the Napoleonic Wars, so that's why the Brits are in Portugal. However, I didn't realize that being found in a river was grounds for charges of espionage. And I honestly can't think that Selim would play in the river with Delilah. It's one of those plot contrivances that usually leads to nudity, and he's much too proper.
Anyway, Major Jason Merrick marches Delilah up to the British camp, where his father takes one look at her, recognizes her as the famous Delilah Dirk, and lets her go. Jason won't take this for an answer, and instead of letting her go, takes her to a field, tells her that she's "taken the King's shilling," charges her with espionage, and attempts to kill her.
I'd not heard the term "taking the King's shilling" before, but it basically refers to enlisting in the British Army (possibly under some sort of duress). Nowhere is this explained, not even in the rather half-hearted historical note at the end of the book. So unless you are particularly comfortable with British Army slang of the late 18th century, you may be out of luck in figuring out the title of the book. The title, people.
Going back to Merrick and Delilah: Selim appears at just the right moment, pursued by French soldiers. Merrick calls out to them in French and Delilah and Selim escape. After a completely pointless mishap of getting on the wrong ship and making a dramatic transfer to the correct ship via the rigging, Selim and Delilah arrive in England, wherupon they are immediately arrested as the spy Delilah Dirk and her accomplice. Wait ... what? Didn't Merrick's father say Delilah hadn't done anything wrong? Didn't the soldiers have anything better to do than capture this duo? Like, you know, stopping Napoleon from rampaging all over the continent? Why would they be arrested on sight?
A mysterious man inexplicably springs Delilah and Selim from jail (why? Who is he?) and with much reluctance, they return to Delilah's home estate to hide.
As it turns out, she's actually a well-to-do lady of society, with a nice house and servants and a mother who is oh-so-glad to see her beautiful Alexandra back home. Delilah/Alexandra thinks it would be a great idea to get some dirt on this Jason Merrick fellow because he has sullied her good (fake) name and this is an insult never to be forgiven! He, in turn, pursues Delilah because he is a spy for the French and he thinks that's the only way people will ever look up to him.
Clearly, they are both delusional.
After Delilah arrives at home, Selim is relegated to a background character, the funny PoC sidekick who takes the falls for his oh-so-witty partner in crime. Before this book, I had always assumed Delilah to be mixed race due to her darker skin tone, but evidently that's just a tan. Although, we don't know what her father looked like, soooo... maybe? But there's immediately this mistress and servant relationship established that Delilah doesn't think twice about and that Selim accepts. What happened to my funny, fretting Selim who kept Delilah in check (kind of)? Now he's a lackey in uniform, covering for Delilah time and time again so she can continue her ill-advised rampage through good society relatively unscathed. They even go to a ball and do country dances and gossip and basically fall into a Jane Austen novel, but with swords. At the end, Delilah performs gymnastic fighting feats in dancing slippers, which would have been made of thin leather and certainly wouldn't have held up to all that running, jumping, slight-drowning, and so forth.
This is a book where nothing makes sense. Tony Cliff acknowledges that he took historical liberties with the tale, but there are so many here that it was hard for me to believe in this setting.
As the icing on this rather lopsided, over-baked cake wreck, Jason Merrick's final EVIL VILLAIN monologue is so hyperbolic that it went into orbit and is now hurtling toward the sun. He lives in his father's shadow and must thus make a name for himself by being an evil spy and helping the French and blowing people up ... mwah ha ha? No, no "ha ha"s here. Just a lot of eye rolling.
The disappointment engendered by this book has made me peevish to the point of not really wanting to talk about it. Tony Cliff's art, while good, can get very muddled in the action scenes. Delilah and Selim each have very distinctive looks, which I appreciate, but Cliff can only seem to draw Delilah's hair one way, and that is ENORMOUS. Even when she returns to England, she's got this ... floating mass of hair following her around. Her bonnet doesn't actually sit on her head but rather hovers over this mane. She really reminds me of Meg from Hercules.
All of the charm and verve of the first book didn't translate to Delilah Dirk and the King's Shilling, which is a mediocre graphic novel at its best points.
I received a copy of this title from the publisher for review.