The Black Mage – Daniel Barnes, DJ Kirkland (Illustrator)

I received a copy of this graphic novel free on NetGalley

The Black Mage – Daniel Barnes, DJ Kirkland (Illustrator)

42593023.jpgThe School for Good and Evil meets Dread Nation in this subversive original graphic novel where race, history and magic collide.

When St. Ivory Academy, a historically white wizarding school, opens its doors to its first-ever black student, everyone believes that the wizarding community is finally taking its first crucial steps toward inclusivity. Or is it? When Tom Token, the beneficiary of the school’s “Magical Minority Initiative,” begins uncovering weird clues and receiving creepy texts on his phone, he and his friend, Lindsay, stumble into a conspiracy that dates all the way back to the American Civil War, and could cost Tom his very soul.


Gorgeous art style combines with quirky reimagining of a magical school built on white supremacy in this inventive and quirky graphic novel. Tom Token, the first black mage to be admitted to historically white magical academy St Ivory’s, is blazing a trail as the herald of change in magical racism. But once he gets to the school, concepts of race and privilege are entrenched, and there is far more to his admission than there seems. Historical figures make appearances as Tom tries to figure out what’s happening in the school. Mystery texts, weird clues, and a new friend who becomes substantially more woke over the course of the book combine to make a story that’s fun, fresh, and enjoyable, despite being steeped in horrendously racist narrative.
Daniel Barnes has written an original and quirky #ownvoices story (the racism elements, not the magic… I think). St Ivory’s academy is steeped in overt racism, from the name of the school to the uniforms of the staff (Klan uniforms) and there are subtle and outright references to racist history peppered throughout the book (Tom’s pet crow is called Jim, so…). The narrative of Tom uncovering a conspiracy in the school which is much deeper than it appears gives a great chance to examine entrenched attitudes of racism, while Lindsay’s journey as she befriends Tom and joins in his quest allows us to see the nasty associations that follow her by virtue of her choice of friends. The magical system in the book feels underdeveloped, however, and narrative development feels like it’s sacrificed for the sake of compelling visuals in fight scenes. There’s loads of really great stuff in here, and the art style complements the fresh and modern narrative style. The whimsical nature of the content belies the depth of examination of race and racism that’s visible here, which gives a great contrast to the book. The opening pages at least feel a lot like Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses, with the elements of ground-breaking race relations moves, and the difficulty of being a trailblazer. There’s lots to enjoy here, but at times the story felt shallow and underdeveloped, particularly in the closing pages. A very enjoyable story with beautiful visuals and some deep themes to examine, but a scope that I felt was a little too ambitious to fit comfortably within the pages.

Three Stars

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One response to “The Black Mage – Daniel Barnes, DJ Kirkland (Illustrator)

  1. Pingback: June Roundup | Much Ado About Books

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