Review: Castle Swimmer by Wendy Lian Martin
Castle Swimmer is one of those webcomics which I could easily have missed, but I am so glad that I didn’t. It is an absolute pleasure to read, even though the plot is somewhat of an emotional rollercoaster. Set in an underwater world, populated by humanoid merpeople who live in communities known as Castles, the world is beautifully diverse and varied. All of the humanoid denizens we meet are inspired by marine life and while they are all merpeople, they cannot be said to be comprised of the “Mermaid” stereotype, though similarities are of course prevalent.
What happens when your entire life is ruled by a prophecy – your future foretold by people you’ve never met, who died long before you were born.
The story revolves around dual protagonists, Kappa, the Beacon, the staple fantasy “chosen one.” Born to fulfil the prophecies of the underwater world. And Siren, prince of the Sharks, who has been brought up to slay the beacon to save his people from a relentless curse that maims and kills them on an almost daily basis. The beauty of Castle Swimmer is that it takes these archetypes and spins them, giving us not the story of an all-powerful chosen one who can only fulfil his destiny, but the vulnerable Kappa, who doesn’t want to be the beacon at all. Castle Swimmer dwells on the emotional burden of duty and its ramifications on those bound to it. It is a refreshing tale of growing up and coming to terms with the world around them. Siren, the shark prince, is constantly guarded, as one would expect of any prince. But he is also the only shark to be completely unscarred, a testament to his mother’s tenacity and the care of the people who he adorns. As we are drawn further into the tale, we glimpse the weight of a burden, that is unique, but painfully acute. The choice Siren faces is not an easy one and is a balance between expectation and his own mortality.
Often I find that where there is LGBTQ+ representation, it feels shoehorned in or is such a small part of the story that it may as well not be there at all. Other times it is so highlighted that it makes you think that the only way to make it stick out more would be to add a flashing Neon sign that says “Look we added Gay people.” Thankfully, Castle Swimmer resolutely bucks this trend. The sexuality of its characters is never explicitly stated, characters never mention it, there is no highlighting at all and no averse character reaction. That one of the Queens used to be called “Prince” makes no noise and the growing romance between Prince Siren and a male character is nothing short of beautiful. It is treated as all LGBT representation should be: as a normal everyday detail.
Our dashing young Prince is in his prime! The Boys must be lining up!Silver, Episode 17
Even the gender of the characters themselves is expertly handled. Males are often seen barechested, with a variety of long and short hairstyles. Female characters are discernable only by the placement of bindings across the bosom. There are no overly sexualised representations. Indeed, it took me many chapters to even figure out this as a convention. I knew certain characters were female due to the titles given to them, but beyond that, the others could easily have been either. I think that it has such a small impact because there are no clear gender roles, male and female characters are shown to be equal in all regards. Sadly, that it stands out so much, shows not only how well Martin has crafted Castle Swimmer, but also sadly how lacking proper representation of equality is in other genres and how much work really needs to be done.
The finale of season one was bittersweet and landed with a bucket load of emotional turmoil. I was happy, sad, pensive and hyped. I wanted more Kappa, more Siren, I wanted it to continue and thankfully it will in a few months. Castle Swimmer is an excellent example of a story that grasps hold of you and takes you on a fantastic and emotive adventure, filled with many twists and a focus on the characters and their place in this strange but fantastic world. I will certainly look forward to season two and ponder the question of whether this will ever be released as a physical book because it certainly deserves it.
There is so much more I could and wanted to say, but I think doing so would spoil some of the magic that Castle Swimmer weaves.
Castle Swimmer can be read for free on Webtoon by clicking here.
Permission to use Castle Swimmer Images sourced from google has been obtained, see here.
embedded image 1 – https://wendylianmartin.tumblr.com/post/168490679929/my-new-comic-called-castle-swimmer-will-be