REVIEW: Ash & Thorn #3: Beautiful Dreams and Devastating Nightmares

Ash & Thorn has been a series of exciting twists and turns. When we last left Lottie and her Guardian Peruvia, the new Champion was busy slicing demons in half with a cast-iron skillet while rescuing her art tutor Sarah from a demon’s grasp. In the latest installment of Ash & Thorn, we focus a lot more on psychological drama than beat-em-up scenes.

Issue 3 opens on the odd couple…taking a nap?

Naptime in Ash & Thorn #3

It’s a jarring transition into the book’s best installment yet. Perhaps it’s best to think of Ash & Thorn as the equivalent of a certain vampire-slaying teenager: each issue, like a weekly TV show, is episodic. There’s an over-arching story, but it isn’t serialized the way we’d expect from a modern TV show.

And this nap is no ordinary snooze. Sarah swings by, finds our pair asleep, and turns to our new blue demon pal Pickles for help. Sarah is fascinated by magic and Pickles is all too happy to indulge her for his own mischievous ends.

Turns out, Lottie and Peruvia were bored with a sudden quiet spell of demons so they decide to get to know each other better…by entering a psychic convergence. While in their dream state, the two learn more about each other, perhaps: Peruvia learns that Lottie feels vulnerable about her age. Lottie discovers that Peruvia is disappointed with her progress.

Suddenly, our Big Bad shows up and makes a tempting offer to the pair: for Lottie, a life of normalcy. For Peruvia, power beyond her wildest dreams. Only one of them refuses, and the two awaken.

Dreams As a Window to the Soul

This is the kind of interior look I’ve been waiting for — the storytelling that tells us what makes Lottie and Peruvia different from Buffy or Sookie. Ash & Thorn #3 gives the reader insight into what these characters really want out of life.

For Lottie, we can now see that her ambivalence about her role has little to do with her knee pain. She disapproves of the whole system — what is the point of eternal chaos?

Pondering the universe in Ash & Thorn #3

Meanwhile, Peruvia’s thirst for power makes sense in the context of her own sense of inadequacy. She’s been left with a job she doesn’t quite know how to do, and nobody who can help her is even around.

A Brush and a Palate

This time around, artist Soo Lee’s work is expansive, perfect for a trip into the psychic realm. However, there were some moments were the backgrounds felt a bit rushed. As you can see below, there’s a bit of sketchiness to the art that suggests someone was short on time — especially compared to the magnificent nature scenes in the first issue. On the other hand, Pippa Bowland’s infatuation with the color purple imbues this issue with a mystical energy. Ash & Thorn’s earthiness helps keep this story feeling textured and real.

Sketchy backgrounds in Ash & Thorn #3

One part of this series that I look forward to almost as much as the main story is the short fiction at the end of each book. The two bonus stories in this issue were a mixed bag. Christeen Amburgey’s “The Girl Thought” is a satisfying tale of communism and revenge. Michael Penncavage’s “Eight Minutes and Twenty Seconds” ponders what one can usefully accomplish in that amount of time, and while it ends with a secret nerd-boy fantasy, that fantasy left a sour taste in my mouth.

Overall, setting up a conflict between a fledgling Champion and a rookie Guardian was not where I expected Ash & Thorn #3 to take us, but I can’t wait to see where the fourth installment leaves us.

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