Svetlana Chmakova is one of my favourite Original-English-Language (OEL) manga creators and Nightschool is my favourite of her series. Ever since Nightschool received those lovely, new omnibus editions, I’ve wanted to write up a review of the series and Halloween seemed like the perfect excuse, so here we go.
Weirn are witches who are bonded to friendly demon spirits called astrals and they, and other members of the Night Thing community, attend a special school at night to learn magic. Alex’s sister, Sarah, works as the Night Keeper at one such school, but one day she doesn’t come home and, when Alex tries to look for her, she discovers that no one other then herself seems to remember Sarah at all. With no one to turn to for help, Alex enrolls at the school where her sister worked so that she can get to the bottom of her disappearance. But Alex has dangerous secrets of her own and, unbeknownst to her, she’s attracted the ire of a group of Hunters. These Hunters possess superhuman abilities and are sworn to protect regular humans from any Night Things who might seek to do them harm, and they have reason to believe that Alex is dangerous. Will Alex be able to figure out what exactly is going on at the Nightschool and save her sister? Or will the Hunters get her first?
Nightschool is a series that has a little bit of everything. It’s action-packed, funny and full of teenage angst. Chmakova does a great job of doling out just enough information about her urban-fantasy setting so that the reader can follow what’s going on, while still avoiding bogging down the flow of the narrative with too much exposition. Some details are left a bit vague, such as the exact nature of the treaty between the Hunters and the Night Things, but I found that this made the world seem more intriguing, like I was just getting a glimpse of something that’s a part of a much larger picture that was slowly being uncovered.
I think my favourite aspect of the series is the characters and, whoo-boy, are there a lot of them! The story divides its time between following Alex, as she tries to blend in at school and snoop around for clues, and the group of teen Hunters-in-training who are trying to track her down. This ratchets up the suspense, as we can see the Hunters closing in on Alex just as it seems like she’s starting to make progress in her search for her sister. Since we spend so much time with the Hunters, they also become sympathetic characters whose motivations are completely understandable and I found myself dreading the moment they would finally cross paths with Alex, since I didn’t want to see these two groups that I’d come to care about fight each other.
With such a large cast of characters, it would have been easy for some of them to wind up without much to do, but none of them feel superfluous. Every character had moments where they got to shine and I honestly wound up loving all of them. My favourite character is definitely Ronee, the confident and in-control queen bee of the school who winds up helping Alex search for Sarah. She’s smart and cool and has a complicated relationship with her own sister. The scene where it’s finally revealed why she’s been so cold and distant towards her sweet and bubbly little sister is the most dramatic moment in the series and it also serves to drive home just how strong and amazing Ronee really is! And Ronee is just one of the many wonderful characters in Nightschool. I also loved Daemon, the bad-ass Hunter who acts as both guardian and instructor to the Hunter trainees, and Mr. Roi, the brilliant and powerful sorcerer who teaches at the Nightschool and sometimes gets so caught up in his own research that he forgets to show up to class. I could go on, but I think you get the picture.
I will admit that it took me a little while to warm up the Alex, as her sassiness can sometimes come off as obnoxious, but she has good reasons for being so prickly and she eventually won me over. I suspect that not everyone will have this issue and that some readers will be more drawn to her sardonic personality then I was. Heck, her sarcastic quips could very well make her a very appealing main character to the series’ teen target audience.
The one thing that I’m not crazy about in this series is the ending, which involves a very deus ex machina solution to the main conflict. I don’t want to spoil anything for new readers, so I won’t reveal any details, but, suffice it to say, several characters make use of an amazing ability – which I’m pretty sure had never been mentioned in the series prior to that moment – to swiftly and neatly resolve everything… more or less. There are a few loose ends that aren’t quite wrapped up by the end and there were a few plot points that could have used a bit more explanation. None of this really bothered me too much during my first reading of the series, since the author’s notes at the back of volume 4 implied that this was only the ending of the first arch in a much larger story. I assumed that there would be more books forthcoming that would continue Alex’s and company’s adventures and that any questions I still had would eventually be answered. But it’s been several years since then and no sequel to Nightschool has materialized. There is a new spin-off series, entitled The Weirn Books, which takes place in the same world, but it features none of the same characters and, thus far, isn’t a continuation of this series. I hope that some day we’ll see a real sequel to Nightschool but, as things stand, I have to say that the ending of Nightschool feels a bit rushed and inconclusive.
If you missed out on Nightschool the first time around, now is the perfect time to try it out and see what you’ve been missing. This fantastical adventure has something for everyone and it’s worth picking up for the humor and the diverse and delightful cast of characters alone.
Final Score: 8 out of 10
For more information on this series, visit Yen Press’ website.
What did you think of this series? Who’s your favourite character? Let me know in the comments.
Also, be sure to check out my reviews of some of Svetlana Chmakova’s other works.