Title: The Tea Dragon Society
Author/artist: Katie O'Neill
Release Date: October 18, 2017
Publisher: Oni Press
After discovering a lost tea dragon in the marketplace, Greta learns about the dying art form of tea dragon care-taking from the kind tea shop owners, Hesekiel and Erik. As she befriends them and their shy ward, Minette, Greta sees how the craft enriches their lives—and eventually her own.
The Tea Dragon Society is all kinds of sweetness and whimsy. It's a kind, gentle story about a young girl discovering an almost lost art and the new friends it brings her while also wondering about her own future.
Greta is a sweet and friendly girl, following her mother's footsteps and training under her to become a blacksmith. But are those skills really useful anymore? Adventurers and magicians are becoming things of the past, and Greta's feeling unsure. While she is interested, while she wants to continue, she wonders if it's okay to keep blacksmithing if so few have any use of what she could create. But then one day she discovers a bullied and scared tea dragon in town.
The artwork is wonderful, a little similar to O'Neill's previous graphic novel Princess Princess but different enough that it holds its own. The mixture of bright and pastel colours, the near-constant appearance of vines and flowers in the backgrounds. The big smile of Greta's, along with that charming little fang. The waterfall-like flow of Minette's hair, as dreamy as her own expression when she struggles to remember. The different body types of the tea dragons, from long and slim Jasmine to plump and drowsy Chamomile. And the different body types of the characters, from Greta's mom being so tall and sort of muscular to Erik, battered and scarred from years of adventuring, moving around in a wheelchair.
An overall message or theme here is that, with Greta's blacksmithing apprenticeship and the art of making tea from tea dragons, history and knowledge is something to be cherished, to be continued as the world becomes more modern. There is still something to learn by heating metal in fire, by striking it with a hammer. Something to learn in taking it slow, in memories good and bad. There's still magic in old things, in slowly creating and nurturing. And there's so much diversity in this book, different races and body types and sexuality. This feels very much like the beginning of something, and I so hope that there will be more from O'Neill set in this enchanting fantasy world of tea dragons. It's definitely something I would recommend to all ages, especially kids looking for something kind and magical.
(I downloaded an e-galley of this title from Oni Press through NetGalley.)