At first glance Zoc’s world is a lot like our own. Farmland spreads over hill and vale and people live in pockets of population resembling an agrarian culture from a simpler time. Travelling minstrels drift between these enclaves and here and there exist people with strange gifts that defy logic. Zoc is one such person. Water is drawn to her hair, trailing along behind her like a bridal train. Though slight in stature, Zoc can pull huge amounts of water in such a way, and aside from her love of minstrels it is her only interest and only gift.
Approaching the age where she will have to find work, she decides to try to use her gift. She offers to help drain water-logged land, and in doing so she begins a journey that will bring her alongside the minstrels she so loves, and bring her in contact with a strange boy called Kael, who may become the perfect partner in her quest.
Zoc is written and illustrated by Jade Khoo, an artist I had not previously been aware of, and consists of 160 or so pages of coloured line art that reminded me a great deal of the art of Kouhaku Kuroboshi (Kino’s Journey). This comparison is what initially drew me to the book, but quickly Jade Khoo moved past any such similarity. The writing is as crisp as the art, with very little extraneous to the actual story, and though the story is devoid of any fast action it never feels slow. Essentially Zoc is a drama set in an only-just fantasy world. It not only explores Zocs work prospects but considers the effects of her attempts, leading her to consider the wider moral implications of her actions.
Zoc is a deceptively simple book, from the story to the art, and it does not underline its message, but instead charms its readers with well drawn characters and convincing locations. Of course this means that the book is not for everyone. There are no moments of action, no fights or pyrotechnics on display, this book is about small moments of humanity, not spectacle. Though there is spectacle on display.
What draws the eye in this book is the landscapes. Drawn in simple relief, with the barest detail, it evokes a farmland similar to those from around where I was born. The characters, in spite of their fantastical elements, fit with these surroundings. Any conflict between them is practical, and not born of any prejudice or hate. The conflict of Zoc’s world is that of folk who live lives of toil, and who have little time for foolishness.
If I were to put on my critical hat for a moment I could pick faults with the book. The ending isn’t quite as fulfilling as I’d have hoped, and I wanted to see more of the minstrels that Zoc loves so much, but these complaints seem petty when presented with the book as it stands. Yes, I would like more from Zoc, but if anything, this is more a compliment than a complaint.
This book is a very quick read, and one I think you’ll probably remember with some affection once its over, probably looking forward to whatever Jade Khoo decides to release next.