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by Rebecca Silverman,

Give to the Heart

GN 1 & 2

Give to the Heart GN 1 & 2
Far in the future, a cataclysm has left the Earth in a medieval state. Humans, taken from their position of godlike power over nature, have been put under the care of three demon kings who control water, energy, and the seasons, and people now live in isolated towns and villages, rarely venturing forth. Last year Sooyi became the Water King's wife, but he lost her trust irrevocably and she has sworn revenge. She is traveling to find the mysterious Dead City where lost technology of mankind's former days may be able to kill her husband. But the Water King is still in love with Sooyi...and he will do anything he can to get her back.

Give to the Heart marks Korean manhwaga Wann's fourth English title to get a print release (others are available as e-books only), and it is certainly one of the most unusual. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, it combines her addictive soap opera romance with a frightening and confusing science fiction story, reading more like a long version of one of the short stories included in 9 Faces of Love than her melodramatic romances Can't Lose You and 100% Perfect Girl. It is strange and also strangely difficult to put down as Wann slowly gives us the history of Sooyi and the Water King's troubled relationship while dropping hints as to the state of the world and what might have brought it to that point. Reminiscent of Jeanne DuPrau's novel The City of Ember, Give to the Heart isn't the best of any of its mixed genres, but it certainly is compelling.

After a prose prologue, the story begins in the middle and stays there for almost all of the first two volumes. The prologue itself reads like a myth – humans were once gods, but they took too much for granted, and so the supreme God punished them, stripping them of their powers. He did not want them to die, so he provided three demon kings to control weather and other important resources. But God did not want humans to become complacent, so he made the Water King fickle – cruel one day and kind the next, so that humans could never live in full happiness and security. At first this story seems like it must be talking about a Biblical occurrence, something that happened in the distant past as we understand it in 2015, a feeling which is helped by the fact that the text is over images of writings on a cave wall. As we go on, however, it becomes clear that we are the humans who were gods, and that this story is being told from far in our future about a world not too distant from the one we live in now.

Sooyi is a young woman in this distant time. When we meet her, she is a wanderer, someone without an established hometown going from place to place as a peddler. She helps another nomad, the seemingly naive Niroo, who doesn't know that having maps of the world is forbidden in cities. She helps him escape from the guards and tells him that she wants to go to the mysterious Dead City in search of ancient technology before she herself is captured by a gorgeous man with flowing hair and an open shirt. He, we quickly learn, is Lord Ganok, the Water King, and Sooyi is his runaway wife.

The relationship between Ganok and Sooyi is one that could have been ripped from the pages of any American bodice ripper. Despite Sooyi's anger at her husband (and it looks like she has every right to be upset), Ganok is still madly, desperately in love with her, to the point where he can barely control himself physically around her. While it should be noted that there is no actual sexual intercourse until she consents, he is constantly grabbing her, laying on top of her, and doing other very sexual things to her while she protests. From an academic point of view, this is pretty typical of a certain type of romance novel, with the fantasy being that this sexy, gorgeous god loves the heroine so much that he just can't help himself. Sooyi, however, is a stronger, more manipulative heroine than we typically see in those books, which gives this story a bit of an edge in that when she sleeps with him, it is because she is using that to get something else. We definitely get the impression that somewhere in her heart Sooyi still loves her husband; on the other hand, it is also easy to believe that she absolutely would kill him if she had the means. To say it is a troubled relationship is putting it mildly, and not even Ganok, all-powerful Water King that he is, can really understand it.

More interesting is the science fiction element of the story. We know early on that Niroo is hiding something, and we get tantalizing hints of what that may be as the books go on. Is he even human? We still haven't met all of the Kings, but it seems like he may be something else entirely. It's also clearly no coincidence that the servants of the two Kings we have met thus far are named Dior and Chanel, and I would be willing to bet that the Dead City turns out to be Seoul. What exactly happened and why, as well as who and what the Kings themselves are, is intriguing, and Wann proves to be almost as good at hooking us with a sci fi premise as she is with a romance one.

The art in Give to the Heart is a mix of modern sensibilities with old-fashioned Korean imagery, and there's a general feeling of desolation to the artwork, whether it depicts humans or landscapes. Humor often falls a bit flat, and Netcomics' translation has a couple of small misspellings, but on the whole the plot makes this more of a thinking read than the artwork or translation. Give to the Heart is a sad, strange, fascinating story that tends not to be at all what you're expecting while still making use of established genre conventions. It isn't as immediately addictive as Wann's other works, but it still manages to make itself worth reading and at times very hard to put down.

Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B-

+ Interesting blend of science fiction and bodice ripping romance, Ganok makes for some lovely eye-candy. Compelling even when you aren't sure what's going on.
Romance may make some readers uncomfortable, lower bodies generally look a little off. A couple of spelling/grammar errors in the translation.

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