Castles, Countesses, and Cat Women


When I Arrived at the Castle (Koyama Press), Emily Carroll’s new graphic novella, features queer lovers, gothic horror and the fairy tale themes we’ve come to expect from Carroll’s work. Our heroine, an anthropomorphic cat woman, arrives at the Countess’s castle intending to kill her. A gorgeous, statuesque vampire, the Countess knows exactly why her guest is there, but treats her with hospitality before setting a series of traps, including seduction, that the cat woman must overcome in order to kill her. Carroll’s art is striking—black and white and red with baroque details overlying simple backgrounds and character designs with lots of negative space, few words, and fewer panels: most pages are full images, rather than the multi-panel layout typical of many comics. Especially uncanny are the series of pages where we glimpse the Countess at her dressing table through keyhole-shaped panels, watching her shed her skin to become monstrous. The story is non-linear and prefers to leave things ambiguous. This is especially effective for the folktale-like situations the cat woman finds behind certain doors in the castle: rendered as white text on a red background, with no images, these stories-within-a-story have an arresting, disorienting effect that amplifies the reader’s anxiety by leaving things to the imagination. To me, Carroll’s book is about struggling with gender and femininity: the primary themes of the story are shame and entrapment, and the cat woman is trying to kill a villain who is the kind of beautiful, flat sex object occupying many media properties instead of actual complex women characters. Notably, both the Countess and the cat woman are shown to have changeable skins, suggesting that gender presentation is both fluid and a disguise. I loved the mix of familiar horror tropes, dramatic art and feminist themes in this graphic novella, and look forward to Carroll’s next work.

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Kelsea O’Connor is contributing editor to Geist. She lives in New Westminster.


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