Authors: J.N. Monk and Harry Bogosian
Publisher: Graphics Universe ™
Goodreads Rating: 4/5 stars
Content Warnings: Mild violence
Purchased or Received Copy: Received copy from Netgalley
Topside takes place on a planet with two separate populations. Josephine “Jo” Wilson lives in the Interior, a subterranean society that races to keep up with the crumbling technology keeping their homes together. After making a serious error in repairing a core, Jo goes to the surface, also called the Topside. While there, she meets a host of Topside residents. Tenz is a woman of many names with a mysterious past. The youthful and curious Kevin is a Drevari, a race of shape-shifters who looks to Tenz as a mother figure. Karina and Lumi, a shark woman and a person made out of electricity, are bounty hunters turned friends. Jo didn’t have authorization to leave the Interior, so she used a key that belonged to one of her superiors. After her sudden and unexplained disappearance, Interior forces begin pursuing her.
One of my strongest feelings while reading Topside is how much I like the characters, especially Jo. She seems like a reliable, responsible woman. In fact, the whole reason she went to the surface was because she made a mistake and wanted to fix it. She didn’t try to blame somebody else or avoid accountability. I don’t know exactly why that stuck out to me so much, but Jo is a great character for people that like down-to-earth, no nonsense characters. She’s a repair technician, and that is her main motivation. She works hard to help support her parents and younger sister. She makes a mistake and takes matters in her own hands to make things right. True, she also wants to avoid punishment for destabilizing the planet’s core, but nobody’s perfect.
Even after talking about Jo, I’d have to say that Topside draws its greatest strength from its characters. Each one has a story to tell, even if there are more questions than answers. Karina refers to Kevin as a refugee, but doesn’t say from what, or why Tenz is so protective of him. We never see how Karina and Lumi met or became romantically involved. Still, we see their chemistry as they work together and amplify each others’ strengths. They may be a shark woman and a living lightbulb, but isn’t that what a good relationship is all about? I don’t know if the authors plan to expand on this universe in the future, but they sure gave themselves room to.
Bogosian’s illustrations make Topside a joy to look at. His style is very round and soft, juxtaposing the tension and mood with a welcoming image that encourages the reader to keep taking in every detail. I also liked his use of monochrome. Certain pages used almost entirely values of a single color, which I think told an interesting visual story. The Interior is case in cold, metallic blues. The Topside is a warm desert of rusty reds and yellows. Topside meshes Monk’s writing with Bogosian’s illustrations in harmony, and they seems to bring out the best in each other as a team.
Despite the well-woven tapestry that is is the universe of Topside, I felt that the finishing touches weren’t quite there. Without spoiling the ending itself, I’ll just say that the pacing grinds to a halt for a contrived and overly convenient conclusion. The main conflict is between the improvisational spontaneity of the Topside and the rigid bureaucracy of the Interior. It’s a conflict that the story pretty much tosses to the side and it felt jarring. It’s a shame, considering how skilled Monk is with their use of tension and suspense earlier on in the story. I feel that the story would have greatly benefitted if they had revised the last five pages or so one more time to keep the momentum going that they had already established.
Still, Topside offers a window into a universe that left me hungry for more. I would like to explore these author’s other works, and I hope they explore the universe of Topside even more in the future.