And the beak that grips her, she becomes
In the next ten months of reading all of its volumes or so, I didn't really think it was possible for me to fall in love with The Sandman. I knew I was already a fan since The Doll's House, but my appreciation and affection for Gaiman's work were not as intense or as consuming as I initially thought they would become sooner of later (and that happened later on once I got my hands on Gaiman's collaborative volume with Jill Thompson, but I digress).
I enjoyed what the previous volume Season of Mists had to offer. It was spectacular in scope, touching upon old faiths and religions and the complex interpretation of Lucifer Morningstar, as well as Dream's long overdue resolution with his former lover, Nada. My interest for this series of graphic novels was then maintained and I looked forward to what was in store.
What I got in A Game of You was initially disheartening, only because I was once again thrown off balance from the major plot toward a self-contained narrative which the fifth volume was all about. I wasn't entirely happy about the sudden shift from volume 2 The Doll's House to volume 3 Dream Country (an anthology of short stories about secondary characters), so I was just as displeased when after Season of Mists, I had to contend myself with yet another separate events from the major storyline I'm already invested in (where Dream is the focus). Nevertheless, A Game of You proved to be a daring story centered on women from different walks of life: Barbie (whom we previously encountered in the second volume); the lesbian couple Hazel and Foxglove, the transgendered man Wanda/Alvin and the mysterious college student Thessaly.
The concept of Game was written with a feminist perspective; Gaiman brought forth these conflicted women into the dreamscape to expound on the difficulties they faced both as social beings in the context of the unbelievable pressures the female gender has always faced; and as visitors/invaders of the Dreaming where they are thrust into an unknown territory that could change their lives forever. It is worth noting that Wanda was the only one left behind while the other four women were able to travel (and it's for the simple fact that he is physiologically not a woman at all).
Gaiman highlighted the long-held mysticism associated with female consciousness such as the connection pertaining to women's blood cycle and the phases of the moon; and how Barbie's heightened sense of fantasy has allowed her to bridge two worlds together. Queer relationships were touched upon with Hazel and Foxglove whose primary conflict was the unexpected pregnancy of the other due to a drunken mistake; and how it would affect the direction of their partnership. Thessaly, a later important character in the series, is a self-made woman who acts according to her survival instincts, if not because of the blatant disregard for the welfare of others she considers to be inferior to her. However, she is the most engaging character in the volume, and was able to capture the interest of Dream himself when he later arrives in the story to resolve the complications these women caught themselves in.
It's easy to dismiss the eventual arrival of Dream as a deus ex machina wrap-up that is anti-climactic, but after several readings of the entire volume, I realized that it was the most effective pay-off for the story. Barbie claims herself from the broken fragments of her dreamland and returns home to grieve the loss of her childhood and an unlikely friend. Thessaly once again defines herself outside the safety of societal expectations, and Hazel and Foxglove learn to build their relationship with more trust and open communication. The story of Wanda/Alvin is also very stirring and emotional, and its conclusion is one of the most unforgettable moments in the series for me.
Dream, on the other hand, says goodbye to another lover, and warns the women that they must take heed not to endanger themselves by their own hand because the only thing that truly oppresses them is the fact that they have learned to love their bondage. He was also beginning to soften a bit, thanks to the constant interactions with human beings and with the arrival of his secret admirer, the faery Nuala who was first introduced in Season of Mists.
After being able to refresh all of these moments in the book, A Game of You eventually became one of my top favorites of the series. Every time I read this volume, there's always something new to ponder within myself and discuss with people.
* This volume is an acquired taste, however