Ngelalangka (2020) is odd, even by the boundary-pushing standards set by previous volumes of the A Thousand Thousand Islands series.

There are two main sections. The second, and easier to describe, is the rich market place. Other ATTI volumes have had merchants, but never in such density as this. There are magic hats made of folded brocade, mosquito butchers (dear god, that illustration is surprisingly testing my limits), blurry faced slavers who traffick only in those of royal blood, and many more, both with detailed write ups or listed in several tables of market day encounters.

The other portion mostly concerns the puppets, which are generally flat representations of pack animals woven out of leaves. They’re sentient and magical — if you ingest a particular puppet’s “offering” then mount it like a hobby horse, it conveys to the rider the strength and endurance of the animal it depicts. This is very difficult for me to conceptualize, but you can see how they work in the illustration of the royal litter (incidentally, the teen-aged queen is able to literally speak through the mouths of her guards, no matter where they are, using them like puppets, which is unsettling). Some puppets resent their created role and go feral, fleeing to the forests to live in peace (or plot their revenge).

There is a lot of meta-commentary here on freedom and servitude that might make some folks uncomfortable, so head’s up on that for this volume.

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