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– by Donovan Bertch

Trust is a funny thing. When you’re young, trust is automatically given; it’s something that isn’t earned so much as assumed. When someone you trust turns out to not be worth that faith, it’s a tough experience. Having a support structure is important when it all falls apart. It’s nice to know that there are people you can truly rely on in trying times.

But what if that’s all a lie too? What if those you fall back on are just using you for not just their own gain, but survival? Or what if they’re undercutting your goals, your hopes and dreams, all for the sake of the person who broke your trust in the first place?

What if those you called “family” were anything but?

After the events of the first volume of The Promised Neverland, orphans Emma, Norman, and Ray are at their wit’s end. It seems as though no matter what new ground they gain in the fight against their foster Mom and her plans to feed her adopted children to demonic hordes, there’s always a new obstacle right around the corner. Whether it’s the tracking devices lodged on their persons, the encroaching grip of Sister Krone (their new, deadly nanny), or the dwindling timetable for their escape, there’s always a new wall to break down. But as long as they stick together and bring more members of the family into their fold, they know they’ll be okay.

Right?

Well, about that…

Someone in the orphanage is a traitor, feeding information on the main trio’s actions and whereabouts at all times to Mom. This ratchets up the story’s intrigue to a whole new level. Traitor storylines always get the gears turning in readers’ heads-just ask a My Hero Academia fan about that series’ potential traitor, and you’ll get arguments for twenty different suspects. Having anyone be a possible villain in disguise makes for a lot of interesting “I know that you know that I know” style mind games. While the plot point itself doesn’t last long compared to other series (the reveal happens a scant few chapters from volume’s end), its impact lingers for chapters, and spirals into true paranoia as the story continues.

Additionally, since the story spreads beyond the main trio this time around, we get to see just how kids who aren’t as strong-willed as the protagonists fare when faced with the horrific reality that all they know is a sham. Don and Gilda aren’t especially developed yet, but their shaky belief in the protagonists and their shifting alliances create some of the most genuinely scary moments of the series so far. Their mistrust and panic lead to extremely rash decisions, and how it all plays out in the end will be intriguing to see. There’s also the slightest bit of detail as to just what happened to the outside world, by way of a plot point dropped into the reader’s lap without much pomp or circumstance. It’s hamfisted, but it does offer the possibility of further exploration of the world beyond the orphanage, so it’s forgivable.

The sense of increasing dread and danger throughout the story is accentuated by some truly haunting artwork. Though not as widely detailed as the first volume (most of the setpieces are isolated to the forest, a hallway, and a bedroom), there’s still a lot of effort on display. The first few chapters had imagery that took an extremely visceral approach. Monstrous demons, splayed bodies, utterly distorted faces, the works. In the second volume, the focus is less on creatures and horrific figures and more on characters’ body language and expressions. Characters run the gamut of emotions through this arc, with their faces shifting from unequivocal joy to wary caution to flat-out mistrust. This is especially evident with Emma and Norman, who rarely got a chance to go beyond their basic character archetypes in the first volume. Cool, collected Norman has moments of utter disbelief and abject terror, with the background closing in on him. Emma gets a few unsettling serious moments, particularly near the end as secrets are revealed. It’s really fun to see just how many different faces that artist Posuka Demizu can come up with-no one character’s expression, even of the same emotion, is the same.

With this in mind, however, the villains’ side of the story seems to just spin in circles. Sister Krone started off as an interesting addition to the cast, and she definitely makes more of an impact near the end of the volume, but half of what she does is a retread of her actions in final chapters of Volume 1: make herself seem scary as all hell to the kids, act deferential to mom, plot to usurp her, take over the Decepticons, yadda, yadda, yadda. There’s not much done with her until the end, and even then her actions are overshadowed by some of the other twists and turns the story takes. Mom herself barely does anything; where she was an imposing, looming figure in the early chapters, now she’s just sort of there waiting for things to happen or giving instructions on what to do. It feels like a waste of a really interesting character. That being said, there are a couple hints at the very end about secrets she’s hiding, so maybe the next volume will have a bit more to work with.

The Promised Neverland’s first volume left things off on a tantalizing note, teasing the supernatural elements of the world the characters live in while steeling the characters’ resolve for what’s the come. Its second outing shies away from the former and sets to work on breaking down the latter into tiny, bite-sized pieces. We rarely get any mention of demons or the nature of the outside world (aside from a bit at the end), but none of that is really needed thanks to some strong character work and a strong sense of pacing. Plus, it’s one of those volumes that makes you put it down and immediately flip back to the first, if only to catch all the clues that slipped under your radar. Despite a few missteps in writing the villains and a little bit of a plot convenience for our heroes, The Promised Neverland Volume 2 was a thrilling read, and I can’t wait to see what secrets it has up its sleeve.

Grade: A-

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