Matthew Loux has developed a solid fanbase with his Time Museum and Salt Water Taffy series, and if you happen to enjoy those two series, then you will absolutely enjoy his newest story. Prunella and the Cursed Skull Ring tells the story of a young girl who has heard the rumors about her town being a breeding ground for monsters but just doesn’t really care to believe them. That is, of course, until she discovers a ring that turns her into a skeleton that proves to be similar to everything she’s heard.
While Prunella isn’t really ostracized from her community, there is a sense of general disdain that she both receives and reciprocates to those around her. This is probably more likely due to the village’s desire to keep monsters out (a play on communal trauma, perhaps), and they are willing to do whatever it takes to do so even if it means they’re effectively isolated from the outside world. This plays out painfully for Prunella when she puts the ring on and the village subsequently banishes her. While reading Prunella’s story, it’s hard not to compare it to our own world and politics, and it can be uncomfortable to read at times because it does feel like a terrifying depiction of our own reality.
However, it is on her journey to break this curse that she discovers that the ones her village has tried to keep out are actually better than the people doing the banishing. This is where an already strong story really shines, as Prunella not only learns about friendship, but she learns about love and acceptance of herself, too. We see the effect that prejudice and not only has on individuals, but on entire communities, and the artwork supports even these really deep themes well. Loux has mastered the art of letting his, well, art, speak for him: indeed, there are parts of this short read where there are no words, and it is up to the reader to decipher what is going on. It is this kind of storytelling that really forces the reader to engage with this world and all the baggage it brings. It is a lot of “show, don’t tell,” and it works really well especially as Prunella has to answer the most important question: Does she even want to break the curse?
This is an emotional story with incredible art, and an ending that is both earned and a little too hopeful. It is a beautiful story of a young girl who realizes that her community is not as great as it has pretended to be, and that it is in our drive to be inclusionary that we really build the village we want. Stories like these make us believe in change, and growth, and in that respect, it accomplishes what it set out to do. It also pushes us to look inward, but not just at ourselves: no, it asks us to look at who we keep around us and question whether that is how we want to spend the time we have.