By Hazel Romano | June 6, 2017
A cursed amulet. A girl on the run. A traitor in disguise. A . . . snow-haired guardian? K. Lynn Smith’s Plume is an adventure that includes all of those elements and more. The series is a refreshing twist on the Western, resulting in a whimsical yet intricately layered cast of characters as vivid as the mysterious nature of magic that exists in their world.
Set in a Wild West and Victorian-era landscape populated with horses and gun-slinging bandits (as well as no shortage of hoop skirts), Plume follows a girl named Vesper Grey and her reluctant companion named Corrick, who is confined to a life of servitude due to the gold amulet he is magically bound to. On a mission to follow in the footsteps of her father to salvage ancient artifacts, the pair are sent on a path to unravel the origins of the curse, putting them in direct confrontation with a centuries-long mystery.
Vesper is the bold and steadfast heroine, a female Indiana Jones-type who is never content with idly standing by as the action unfolds around her. Her pursuit of the truth and refusal to remain submissive despite her father’s and Corrick’s insistence make her a driving force to be contended with. Though under the protection of her guardian, she consistently asserts agency; she may be under protection, but it’s largely on her own terms. Dressed in a cobalt trenchcoat with luminous yellow eyes, Corrick holds an ethereal but stern presence as Vesper’s fated protector. Underneath their hardened exteriors, there’s an undeniable chemistry between them; it’s too early to tell if anything beyond platonic threatens to emerge from their relationship (there’s hope for you shippers!).
One of the more enigmatic aspects of the duo is that as powerful a being as he is, Corrick’s role as a magical guardian is intrinsically unstable. As a product of the sinister plans of others, Corrick’s ability to provide protection is only as strong as the safety of the amulet that controls him. Such a prized possession can draw unwanted attention; the more places they travel to the more people they have to be wary of. Under a more devious master and in the wrong hands, Corrick is vulnerable as a puppet and has the capacity to exercise his worst powers and turn against Vesper and their allies. It also doesn’t help that the villains in Plume are annoyingly elusive and don’t really establish a concrete presence. Their agenda is yet to be revealed and understood, making them even more formidable.
While the spotlight of Plume is on the two protagonists, the story especially succeeds in its attention to the relationship between Vesper and her father. The extensive knowledge of sacred objects and cultural history that he possesses establishes him as a crucial figure to solve the mystery behind the amulet and the mystical forces associated with it. His absence, however, is the source of Vesper’s frustration as she is not thoroughly aware of the burden he took on for the sake of her safety. Leaving minimal clues behind, his motivation to keep her from harm hinders her understanding of the gravity of their situation. It is against this backdrop that readers will find that the themes of duty and justice are explored throughout the series. Vesper’s duty is obligatory because of the amulet, but is her father’s decision any more justified? It’s easy for them to say they’re doing it for Vesper’s own good, but isn’t that ultimately a decision for her to make?
The omnipresent danger that Vesper, Corrick, and their company must navigate through is complicated by an equally overpowering psychological force: revenge. Eventually Vesper becomes entangled in an ethical dilemma underscored by the series’ tagline: “Revenge is like a plume of black smoke”. Fighting off the impulse to give in to vengeance, Vesper struggles to abide by her own compromised moral code. Thus, readers are left to ponder: With the right motives, are certain acts of revenge justified? Tempting here to answer in the affirmative, especially for the reader who wants to see Vesper and her crew succeed at all costs. Not surprisingly, the moral shades of gray blurs the convenient distinctions between hero and villain; if the former characters engaged in the same deviant behavior as the latter, are our protagonists carrying out true justice?
With only a handful of issues out, Plume already has the makings of a satisfying page-turner. With Smith’s vibrant characters set against an enigmatic backdrop, the series exudes an irresistible charm and intrigue that are bound to keep readers engaged. The magic that pervades their anachronistic world seems to suspend the characters in a state of constant danger. What exactly are Vesper and her friends up against? Readers will first have to clear the smoke to find out.
Hazel Romano is a freelance writer and recent UC Berkeley grad. When she’s not geeking out over fantasy and sci-fi movies, she likes to travel and spend time with her furbabies, Remus and Noah. You can see more of her work at wiltedink.wordpress.com.