November 02, 2023


Kid Beowulf: Songs & Sagas. By Alexis E. Fajardo. Kid Beowulf Comics. $19.99.

     The thing about world building is that worlds are big. This means that creators of fantasy, no matter how many stories they tell, are inevitably leaving a lot out – or sowing the seeds from which a lot of additional stories will eventually grow. And that in turn means that when a graphic-novel series such as the Kid Beowulf mixture of myth and history grows, there is room in its interstices for stories outside the main narrative line (or, in this case, main narrative lines, plural). Alexis E. Fajardo, having completed four Kid Beowulf graphic novels and showing no sign of stopping (or even slowing down very much), has therefore taken a pause in the continuing adventures of his various characters to plug some narrative holes that readers of the books probably never even knew were there.

     Kid Beowulf: Songs & Sagas is a bit like Bone: Tall Tales and other supplementary volumes that followed Jeff Smith’s completion of his nine-book Bone series: Fajardo does not really give readers anything new or surprising about his world and the characters in it, but he fleshes out a variety of events and introduces some additional subsidiary characters that are interesting in their own way. He also fills in some of the history – his version of the history – from the times in which the earlier books are set.

     Those earlier books – The Blood-Bound Oath, The Song of Roland, The Rise of El Cid, and The Tarpeian Rock – cover real-world time periods from 753 B.C. to the 11th century A.D., so there is clearly a lot of, err, time to explore the nooks and crannies of various characters’ adventures. But actually, Fajardo’s world should not be taken to correspond too closely to ours, since that would make the various interminglings of his characters quite impossible without a lot of hither-and-thither time travel, and these are not works of that particular sort of make-believe.

     Staying within the Kid Beowulf milieu, Fajardo in Songs & Sagas presents five stories in all, helpfully showing at the beginning of each one just where the events fit within the time sequence of the tetralogy of novels created to date. Each story here is interesting in its own way. Shild and the Dragon provides some important (if not absolutely crucial) background on the history underlying the basic story of the boy Beowulf (human) and his brother Grendel (big, green, and horned). Readers of Beowulf may remember that the ancient saga begins not with the titular character but with the story of Scyld Scefing (“Shield, son of Sheaf”), the great-grandfather of Hrothgar, who is king of the Danes in Beowulf's time. Fajardo’s story delves into the days of Shild (Scyld) before he became king, and specifically into the part played by a dragon both in Shild’s maiming and in fulfillment of its own complex sense of honor and duty. The story is full of adventure but also rather talky, as befits a “backgrounder” that helps set the scene for events occurring later in time – when the dragon is known to be Beowulf’s and Grendel’s grandfather.

     In contrast, Lay of the Last Survivor is structured entirely without dialogue and impressively creates a background story for Gertrude, daughter of the dragon and mother of Beowulf and Grendel. Lookin’ for Lingonberries is much more lighthearted than either of the first two tales here, to the point of silliness – albeit an enjoyable silliness, since it focuses on characters who are less than serious even within the main story sequence. Paladins Tale is an escape story, or rather a multi-escape story, that takes a brief reference to betrayal and imprisonment and expands it into a narrative focusing on the different ways the good guys get out of the clutches of the baddies. And Boudi’s Bounty provides connective tissue between the third and fourth main-sequence books, the young title character being better known as an adult as Boudicca and famed for her failed rebellion against the Roman Empire’s incursion into Britain in the first century A.D.

     None of these stories is really self-contained, which means they are aimed at readers who are already fans of the Kid Beowulf graphic novels and have read them all. For such readers, they will be a welcome re-immersion into the stories and characters that have been keeping things lively in Fajardo’s mythic-history world since The Blood-Bound Oath appeared in 2016. However, anyone who has not yet read the four main-sequence books would be well advised to wait a bit before delving into Songs & Sagas. This is not a standalone volume but an opportunity to get to know some elements of the ongoing Kid Beowulf story better – not exactly a deep dive into this world, but a deeper wading-in than the main story sequence provides on its own.

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