The land of Princess Barbara,
This review is from: The Sandman: A Game of You (Paperback)
Do you remember Barbie? Not the doll, but the creepily perky blonde from "The Doll's House" who had a matching husband named Ken. Well, she's the protagonist of the fifth "Sandman" collection, which is accurately titled "A Game of You" -- a haunting, fairy-tale exploration into a young woman's dreaming imagination, and the friends who are trying to save her.
Having split from Ken, Barbie has since moved to New York and is living in a small apartment building with a lesbian couple named Hazel and Foxglove, a kindly M-to-F transsexual named Wanda, a creepy guy, and a prim mystery woman named Thessaly. She also hasn't dreamed in two years.
But then she has a run-in with an imaginary creature from her childhood, who gives her the magical jewel called the Porpentine with his dying breath. And that night, she goes back into a fantasy world from her childhood -- a place of talking animals, haunted forests, and a mysterious enemy called the Cuckoo.
But as Barbie (aka Princess Barbara) sets out to defeat the Cuckoo, Thessaly wakes Foxglove, Hazel and Wanda, and reveals that Barbie is in desperate need of their help -- and uses her magic to open a gateway to the realm of dreams. But they may not be in time to save Barbie from the machinations of the Cuckoo -- or New York from the destructive magic being stirred.
In most authors' works, supporting characters are just window dressing for the main characters. In Neil Gaiman's works, every character has their own unique backstory and purpose in the plot -- Barbie was just one of the minor background characters in a previous story, but in "A Game of You" we discover her dreams, her past, her fears, and her own connection to the Dream King.
And in turn, the other characters are given well-developed backstories, problems and personalities -- the no-nonsense Thessaly, hinted to be an ancient witch or something; Hazel, who is afraid of what her pregnancy might mean for her relationship, and the sensitive, loyal Wanda who will never let Barbie down. Even the crazy dog-hating lady has a REASON to be here, and a history of her own.
Gaiman's storytelling here mingles an enchanted high fantasy world (reminiscent of Narnia) with a darker, more gruesome story. I mean, there's a skinned face with eyes and tongue NAILED TO THE WALL, having a casual conversation with Wanda. Ew. And even if things are worked out by the end, not everything turns out all right -- there are tragic losses, changes, and Barbie has left behind a part of her life.
And where is Morpheus in all this? He only appears in a few scenes, but his involvement is truly vital to the story. And no, I won't say how.
"Sandman Volume 5: A Game of You" will probably leave you with a little smile, but a tear in your eye. A magnificently powerful, haunting story.