Noted: I’m reading from a digital Advanced Reader Copy with gratitude to Net Galley and Lion Forge
originally published in France as Le Serpent d’Eau, 2014.
Translated & published by Lion Forge, November 20, 2018.
In Agnes, Mila discovers a strange new friend, and an even stranger fascination with another person’s teeth. Free-spirited and mischievous, Agnes draws Mila into animal masks, picnic hunts and creepy stories. Sandoval’s rendering of his young female voices and interactions is really well done and its simplest description, Watersnakes is a friendship story.
It isn’t until we meet Agnes’ younger brother Julien that it is confirmed that something weird and magical is also occurring.
It isn’t just that Julien tells us Agnes is a ghost. There is this black octopus. Dreams, protective circles, cloaks, and crypts. And Agnes’ teeth may have enchanted Mila for a reason other than a tooth-fetish. (I love how Mila asks her dad if he liked teeth and that’s why he was a Dentist.)
Have a look at what hovers above the warriors on the book cover. Yeah, so when Agnes becomes deathly ill and loses all her baby teeth in one night—these are the teeth that moved in. It makes a beautiful sense when you learn more about the octopus and where it’s been living.
I googled for any folklore regarding water snakes. I found a Russian story about a girl who is swimming with other girls, all in their underwear, when a water snake lays on her clothing and makes her promise to marry it before allowing her to retrieve her clothes. Agnes calls Mila a “water snake” when they meet, Mila swimming solo in her underwear in a pond. I don’t know if this is a tale that may have inspired Sandoval’s own fairy-like tale, but it foregrounds ideas of transformation, other realms, and the unsuspecting heroine.
Sandoval’s artwork is stunning. The appeal isn’t only aesthetic, delicate and dark, solid and ethereal, but the composition with a panel and of the panels themselves on a page. The visual story is entrancing—and violent. I may have actually flinched with the loss of that limb; and I was definitely taken by the way it is returned.
I was least taken with that opening voice over. That cinematic opening makes sense by the end of the novel when the text is revisited. It could be a translation-thing, or I’m put out that I had to think so hard about it. My mind kept catching on “conscience” and wondered if “conscious” was what was meant there. And “defragmenting” is so stark in its modern and scientific feel in my mouth. I dunno, but when you read it, I’d love to revisit that set-up. That said, likening their projection to that of a dead of star has appeal.
If you love a beautifully crafted graphic novel, Watersnakes is a must. It suits those of us who love the fairytale that is a bit gruesome, strange, and haunted by a bit of coming-of-age eroticism. And if you like bad-ass female warriors who can draw a substantial amount of blood from a skeletal dog army? Tony Sandoval’s Watersnakes is one to pursue.
Noted: Shaun Tan came to mind as I read Watersnakes, as did Dave McKean, Neil Gaiman, and Guillermo del Toro.