Sometimes coming into a story in progress can be a challenge. Brian K. Vaughn must be some master storyteller because I was hooked on the first page and filled in on the backstory beautifully through the six books in this volume. I felt so thoroughly caught up that I wondered what Volume 1 could possibly contain.
Saga is epic (haha). War has created a legacy of hate between two species with no end in sight. Political machinations churn beneath strange alliances. In the middle of all this, two enemies meet and find common ground in probably the awesomest way ever - a romance novel. Alana, a solider, reads while on boring guard duty and can't find anyone to share her enthusiasm for it, until she is assigned to watch Marko, a prisoner of war. The book has a not-terribly-subtle subversive message, of pacifism, an idea wholly verboten in their world. They fall in love over the book and eventually seek refuge with Marko's parents while two factions pursue them across the universe: Marko's people (headed up by his very angry ex-girlfriend) and Alana's military cronies (led by a diabolical prince).
Let's be honest here, just about no one is happy here, but the story is remarkably unflinching and real without being gritty or broody. It is at times hilarious, poignant, and thankfully unsentimental. It can also be gory, phantasmagorical, and crude. If the plot and the mood sound like a wide spectrum, the tropes also run the gamut. The impossible-to-please mother-in-law, the wiseass kid, the star-crossed lovers, the sad waif, the adorably smug pet, the scorned woman, but they don't feel like tropes. Every character is nuanced to give each depth and humanity. It's a wonder and everyone needs to experience Vaughn's virtuosity. My only caveat is that this isn't for kids. Some elements reminded me of Bleach, which is for teens because of violence, and this is a step up from that. Get kids to read Saga, by all means, but when it's appropriate.