Dungeon Critters by Natalie Riess and Sara Goetter
Genre: Fantasy/Graphic Novel
Age category: Middle Grade
Release Date: September 29, 2020
Dungeon Critters is a fun-filled graphic novel that may take its inspiration from the standard tabletop RPG but ultimately creates into a fun and original world that stands on its own as well as any classic adventure.
The main cast consists of the excitable feline fire mage Rose, the practical healer and botanist dog Juniper, the strong and quiet peacekeeping snake (with arms) Goro, and the royal bear family’s not-adopted frog daughter, Prince Chirp. The artwork is imaginative and expressive, with each character having their own distinct and recognizable personality, right down to the varied choice of font in the text bubbles. Even when there’s two important things happening at once, the layout of the panels smoothly clues the audience in as to what is happening when, keeping the battle scenes exciting and easy to follow. The characters all play to their roles in some ways and deviate widely from them in others, giving the book a fresh feel.
The story starts off as a fun and crazy romp with the friends defeating an easy foe before crashing a fancy party. Prince Chirp’s rival causes a bit of trouble for them while Juniper begs Rose to approach problems with something other than arson. (I’m not sure how many readers at this age level know what “arson” means, but considering how June yells, “No arson!” right when Rose is setting everything aflame, it’s a term that explains itself eventually.) After the party is when the main plot really picks up, with Juniper capturing a sample from a definitely-very-evil plant. I was impressed with how seamlessly the book was able to pivot from the largely gags-and-puns introduction to a deeper story that not only tests the characters’ friendships and loyalties but sets up some serious stakes as well.
There is a surprising amount of romance in Dungeon Critters–at least, more than you might expect from the cover and description. Every character in the main cast (and several outside it) is either paired up with someone by the end, tries to pair up with someone, or is part of some unrequited love. If romantic subplots are not a particular reader’s cup of tea, they may start to feel tedious after a while, but they will no doubt be a collective positive for others. Even if you’re not on the edge of your seat over who ends up with whom, the story, dialogue, and artwork are all excellent and well worth a read.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
You can find Dungeon Critters on Goodreads
You can also buy Dungeon Critters on Amazon. (Affiliate link)