In 2010, Svetlana Chmakova concluded Alexius Treveney’s adventures to save her sister and unravel the mystery of her connection to the Sohrem in the final chapter of Nightschool, her original supernatural manga.
Since the conclusion of Nightschool, Chmakova has not only released a manga adaptation of James Patterson’s Witch and the Wizard novels, but also published a series of new children’s graphic novels which follow the adventures of children at the fictional Berrybrook Middle School.
Ten years since Nightfall’s conclusion, Chmakova returns to the world of Weirns, Hunters, and Rippers with her newfound penchant for material aimed at younger audiences in Be Wary of the Silent Woods, a brand-new adventure set in the world of Nightfall aimed at young adults.
Released under Yen Press’ middle-school-aimed imprint ‘JY’, Be Wary of the Silent Woods introduces readers to Ailis ‘Leesh’ Thorton, a young Weirn and student living with her grandmother and attending the local Night School.
Every night on their way to school, Ailis, her friend Na’ya, and Na’ya’s little brother D’esh take a shortcut through which they pass by a creepy, abandoned old mansion in the middle of the woods.
One night, a mysterious masked figure appears outside the house before Ailis, scaring her to death while simultaneously prompting her to investigate the mystery of the abandoned house.
Aside from the strange occurrences happening around the center of the woods, Ailis must also deal with the struggles of middle school life, such as constant ostracization from their peers by the ‘popular’ girls and the misfortune of missing a field trip and winding up in detention instead.
When Patricia, former friend to Ailis and Na’ya and leader of the snide popular girls, appears at school one day acting proper, nice, and sociable, the girls and D’esh, alongside friends Russ and Jasper, vow to investigate the mysterious house and save Patricia from whatever unfortunate circumstances appear to have befallen her.
As a story intended for younger audiences, Be Wary the Silent Woods is a spooky and well-crafted tale of magic and middle school. Interactions between characters feel organic, and despite the cast being quite diverse, ‘educational attention’ is never brought to any of the character’s differences, allowing for the story to flow naturally and normalizing their diversity simultaneously.
The plot, though a somewhat basic exploration of the ‘evil scientist’ story trope, contains enough twists and questions to keep young readers turning the page, while also respecting them enough to lean appropriately into its horror-inspired elements.
If not for the softer tone conveyed by the book’s easier reading style and colorful artwork, many moments throughout the story could be considered creepy by shonen manga or Hollywood horror standards (particularly the arboreal punishment bestowed by the villain and the cracked-mask appearance of the mansion’s ‘Thing’).
On the note of artwork, one would be remiss to not mention Chmakova’s excellent and colorful artwork found within Be Wary the Silent Woods. Published entirely in color, Chmakova moves away from the manga-inspired style of the original Nightfall books and opts for a gentler, Art Baltazar (Tiny Titans) style, though slightly more detailed.
Chmakova’s characters remain on-model and consistent throughout the entire story, allowing readers to easily follow and distinguish the large cast of characters throughout the book.
However, this more colorful and simplistic art style is a two-edged sword for Chmakova. On one hand, Be Wary of the Silent Woods’ softer style is more palpable for younger audiences, allows for greater visual distinction among characters and settings, and allows for the depiction of ‘scary’ imagery without pushing the limits of a child’s comfort.
On the other, rather than the detailed backgrounds seen in her previous, more mature works, the backgrounds seen in this latest adventure to Nightschool are mostly solid colors or gradients.
Aside from Na’ya and D’esh, many of Chamkova’s character designs feel like ‘younger’ versions of characters seen in Nightschool. Jasper looks like Cassidy, Ailis is the spitting image of Sarah, and Russ could easily be mistaken for the son of Mr. Roi.
Of course, this perspective is coming from a seasoned, adult comic and manga reader, so it’s possible that younger audiences won’t really concern themselves with the lack of detail and reused appearances.
Overall, Chmakova’s first visit back to the world of Weirns and Werewolves is a fun and surprisingly dark-at-times exploration of mystery and adventure suited appropriately for its target audience.
Though some art issues are noticeable and the story errs a little on the safe and standard side, these are most likely only glaring to the seasoned reader, as younger audiences will undoubtedly be delighted by the colorful characters and the designs of monsters and magic unique to the world of Nightschool.
If you’ve missed the magic mysteries of the Night Realm or (like a certain Bounding into Comics reviewer) you’re just a huge fan of the expressive astrals, Be Wary The Silent Woods proves a worthy entry in Chmakova’s horror manga universe.
- Colorful artwork
- Actual organic diversity
- Even with the 'softer' tone, some of the horror-inspired scenes are actually unnerving
- Simplistic plot
- Less detailed art than the previous Nightfall books