The Sprite And The Gardener by Rii Abrego and Joe Whitt
Publisher: Oni Press
Release Date: May 11, 2021
Artist & Writer: Rii Abrego & Joe Whitt (Writer)
Available through Bookshop
Summary: Long, long ago, sprites were the caretakers of gardens. Every flower was grown by their hand. But when humans appeared and began growing their own gardens, the sprites’ magical talents soon became a thing of the past. When Wisteria, an ambitious, kind-hearted sprite, starts to ask questions about the way things used to be, she’ll begin to unearth her long-lost talent of gardening. But her newly honed skills might not be the welcome surprise she intends them to be.
[Requested a review copy via the publisher]
My Rating: ★★★★☆
My Thoughts: The Sprite And The Gardener is a “gentle fantasy” graphic novel that follows a kind-hearted sprite named Wisteria who rediscovers gardening and befriends a young girl as she continues to pursue this long-lost art! The unique artwork carries this quiet, slower paced atmospheric story through its whimsy and its latter focus on community!
Every single page of this story is filled with detailed artwork that gives it a life-like, but also very whimsical quality. The gentleness is further implied through the lighter, pastel color palette of oranges, pinks, yellows, greens, and so on. Throughout this graphic novel you’ll notice how it utilizes floral imagery that’s aesthetically beautiful to look at, whether its a withering garden, a peach tree with petals, a small patch of flowers, grasses, or a garden that’s yet to bloom.
Wisteria is new to Sylvan Trace and like many who settle in a strange, unfamiliar place, is struggling to connect with her fellow sprites, feeling unsure how to form a connection. Then its through her curious nature that she discovers a withering garden belonging to a girl named Elena. Tapping into the lost art, she secretly helps by using her floral magic to let the garden grow & thrive. But will she find the confidence to share her secret with the laid-back sprites?
There’s quite a bit of lore that gets introduced early on, establishing how sprites were once responsible as the sole caretakers of all flora, but now that humans tend to their own gardens, the art slowly went away. However, the sprites still mange to inhabit towns and cities. I liked how the novel explores the idea that while sprites that secluded in their own little oasis, they still find interest in foraging or visiting places where humans live.
The gentle quality of the story allows the foundational message of teamwork to come through, slowly throughout the story as Wisteria helps Elena tend to her garden. Couple alongside the slow pace and use of minimal action, its also expressing the heartfelt importance of friendship and beauty of restoring lost art through teamwork!
While the artwork does carry the story, it can feel like the plot itself is filled with this air of mystery and not enough clarity to make it seem fully cohesive. There’s a lot of wonderful elements introduced here no doubt, but its not developed enough where for me, it felt satisfying by the end. Side characters, while beautifully illustrated to present the floral motifs, don’t feel fleshed out enough into Wisteria’s story and the lore of the sprites honestly left me with questions out of pure curiosity: If the sprites are no longer needed what do they do in a typical day & how do they utilize their “mysterious, wondrous magic”? Where did Wisteria come from previously and what led to her softspoken, curious nature?
The worldbuilding is expanded on in a few ways by establishing on the first few pages how the sprites became important to humans, the general atmosphere of the story, and seeing the different backgrounds + locations that the sprites visit. Another interesting piece of info that lends itself to speculate the future of the world, is hearing the Sprites dream jobs if they were to work with plants again! Overall, I do like the whimsical, charming quality to the world.
Artwork is just so beautiful from the style to the colors, I also enjoyed the paneling which makes the world feel really big. The paneling gives it a “manga-esque” quality to where the panel boxes aren’t all the same, there’s a good variety and I like how certain panels layer onto the background settings, making everything come to life more. However that shouldn’t be too surprising because artist Rii was inspired by her love of shojo manga.
I think the story absolutely offers lots of interesting elements here, but to me it felt like it lacked because it only ended up presenting a more “bigger picture” kind of story, instead of further developing all the different layers it introduced. That coupled with the fact that the book did feel quite short, there could have been just a bit more development.
But, I definitely recommend this if you enjoyed ‘The Tea Dragon Society’ and are looking for another quiet, slower paced fantasy story.
The Sprite & The Gardener is a wonderfully illustrated graphic novel that tells a story of of friendship and teamwork! Despite selective exploration of this unique world, the well-utilized floral artwork, inspiring messages and charming storytelling, make this a pleasant slice of life fantasy read!