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September 30, 2010

Discussing QUEEN & COUNTRY

Posted by Dana

In today's post, regular contributor Bonnie Brzozowski and her apprentice Meredith Watters talk about reading a somewhat different kind of graphic novel for this months Graphic Novels Book Club at the Austin Public Library.

Queen-Country-Volume-1-9781932664874.jpgThis month’s Graphic Novels Book Club meeting, hosted by the Austin Public Library, met this month to discuss the acclaimed, Eisner-award winning series, Queen & Country, Volume 1: Operation Broken Ground by Greg Rucka. This gritty spy drama proved to be completely unlike anything we had read before and we found ourselves poking fun at the James Bond-esque antics we normally see in the spy genre. Queen & Country takes a very realistic look at what it would be like for a young woman, Tara Chace, to be a spy for Britain’s SIS (or, MI6) in a special division referred to as the Minders. If you can imagine what it would be like to have work orders that can include assassination, avoiding bounties over your head, and travel across the globe in a moment’s notice, then you may have some sense of what real-life international spies actually deal with.
Reading graphic novels that are part of a series is always a challenge. As I’ve said in a previous post, avoiding spoilers is essential if you’ve read ahead. Often times I will only read the assigned volume and no more before the group meeting just so it’s easier for me to prepare without storylines from the other volumes filling my brain. The other potential challenge I feared coming across was the content of the book itself – is the life of a spy really good enough fodder for an intelligent book discussion? In this case, absolutely. Morality and trust within the international intelligence community, the immense strain of working in a highly volatile and dangerous work world, and loyalty to country versus colleagues and other allegiances are all extremely discussable themes brought up in this one, super slim volume.

But, alas, I was once again not the leader of discussion this month – my lovely apprentice, Meredith Watters, was slated to prep and lead our discussion (and, in fact, she was instrumental in selecting this book). This being the last month I had the great pleasure of having two delightful “apprentices” help me lead the group and, ideally, learn something about leading a book club themselves. Here’s Meredith’s perspective on the discussion and her preparations for it:

“To prepare for the Queen and County discussion I first read and re-read the novel. (I had actually read it years before, but wanted a fresh look at it from two new perspectives.)  My first reading was for the story itself, examining each character for their strengths and weaknesses. Protagonist Tara Chace is a complex character and continually develops as the saga continues.  For this discussion I wanted to be prepared to talk about the particular character nuances the author brings out in the first book. The second reading was to examine the art.  Steve Rolston does an incredible job of portraying the emotions of characters who at many times during the story are trying to conceal true feelings or have very conflicting emotions. I based my discussion points and questions on impressions gathered during the two readings and felt that my facilitation was successful because of this preparation.”
If you’re considering reading Queen & Country at your next book club, here are some discussion questions to get you going:
1. In what ways does Queen & Country challenge popular accounts of spies and espionage? Is the character of Tara Chace typical of the fictional spies you’re familiar with?
2. The book tires to give a realistic view of what life as a spy would be like. How well does Rucka do this? How would Rucka know what life as a spy would be like, or how would he be able to infer what it would be like? Do the power struggles and bureaucracy portrayed in the book fit in with your conception of the intelligence world?
3. How does trust factor into the spy world? Who can be trusted? Crocker mentions Burgess, Maclean, and Philby ( – what does their story reveal about the nature of espionage? How are loyalties determined?
Has your group tried a graphic novel? Or are you in a graphic novel book club? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this book and others. Feel free to comment here on the blog, or email dana at bookreporter dot com.
-- Bonnie Brzozowski, Reference Librarian - Austin Public Library