The Weirn Books Vol. 1: Be Wary of the Silent Woods is set in the same universe as author Svetlana Chmakova’s 2008-2010 Nightschool: The Weirn Books series. Familiarity with its predecessor, however, is not only unnecessary, but expected for the new series’ younger target demographic. Where the previous series was a manga-esque comic aimed at teenagers, this is a Middle Grade series more visually reminiscent of Chmakova’s Berrybrook Middle School series.
The book quickly and efficiently introduces the basics of the world and characters. In the New England coastal town of Latham, magical beings live between the Human and Night Realms, and magical children attend the Nightschool. The main characters of this book are a trio of young weirns, witches with demon familiars called “astrals.”
Ailis is our narrator and protagonist; she’s living with her grandma, and going to school with her cousins, the adorable D’esh and dragon-obsessed Na’ya. Na’ya might very well be this volume’s stand-out character, a humorous and convincing protrayal of how a certain breed of fantasy fan might be living in an actual fantasy world.
Middle Grade magic school stories are always going to draw comparisons to Harry Potter. The Weirn Books captures a lot of the creativity, personality, sense of wonder and danger that defined the early Potter books, but with a chiller, lower stakes vibe: as far as we know, Ailis isn’t some “chosen one” but just a girl in over her head. Comparisons can also be drawn to Disney Channel’s The Owl House and the anime Little Witch Academia (the manga adaptation of which was also released by Weirn Books‘ publisher JY, Yen Press’ kids line), while the astrals could be compared to daemons from His Dark Materials.
The art in this book is really good. The character designs for the kids are appealing without being overly cutesy, with expressions that hint at Chmakova’s manga influences without directing aping them. The kids’ grandma has a particularly great design, as does the book’s beautifully eerie villain. JuYoun Lee’s lettering deserves particular note for the way it mixes different fonts with the mood of the dialogue and sound effects; much of the writing appears to be hand-drawn.
Middle schoolers are sure to love this book’s blend of creative, sometimes scary fantasy with relatable characters. Older readers who give it a chance will likely enjoy it for the same reasons, and the world-building is strong enough that it might make them wan to check out Chmakova’s other Nightschool books.
The Weirn Books Vol. 1: Be Wary of the Silent Woods is on sale June 16.
Middle schoolers and adults alike are sure to love this book's blend of creative, sometimes scary fantasy with relatable characters.