Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant

Book review by
Sierra Filucci, Common Sense Media
Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant Book Poster Image
Delightful romp has swashbuckling action, powerful female.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Kids will see scenes set in Turkey in the early 1800s that are mostly accurate depictions of the time and place.

Positive Messages

The story emphasizes justice and adventure, as well as the rejection of elite culture in exchange for excitement and freedom. Honor, loyalty, and friendship are central themes. Violence and confrontation win out over diplomacy and patience.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Delilah Dirk is not a traditional role model in that she takes dangerous risks, slays her enemies without pause, and is wildly impetuous. But she's also a great contrast to highly sexualized or powerless female characters in pop culture because she's very capable, brave, and kind. Selim is less capable, but formal, polite, and selfless.

Violence

Lots of sword fighting and slaying, with a few drops of blood here and there. Bodies that may or may not be dead are seen in piles after confrontations with Dirk. In one fantasy scene, Selim imagines his head is cut off by an executioner and Dirk holds his head in her hands. Lots of scenes of peril, explosions, and destruction. Throughout there's a light, humorous tone that diffuses some of the violence.

Sex

Dirk's dress reveals a teeny bit of cleavage, but she's otherwise pretty much covered up. Despite this, there's one reference to her looking like she belongs "on a street corner."

Language

Almost no iffy language -- one "hell," and some instances of "Curse you!"

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant is a lively romp of a graphic novel starring an adventurous and wildly capable globetrotter. Delilah Dirk slashes her way out of captivity, steals from an evil pirate, and gets both herself and her new friend Selim into lots and lots of dangerous situations. The body count is high, though just a few drops of blood appear on the illustrated pages, and a lighthearted tone dampens the impact of the swashbuckling.

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What's the story?

When Deliliah Dirk is captured and imprisoned by the Turkish army, a soldier named Erdemoglu Selim is sent to interrogate her. He learns of her impressive background, which includes specialized combat training, as well as her elite family connections, making her part of several royal courts. But what really surprises him is when she escapes from prison, saves Selim from execution, and carts him off on a flying boat. The excitement doesn't end there as she draws him into her wild plans to steal back money from an evil pirate, among other escapades. Ever polite -- and an impressive tea brewer -- Selim attempts to repays Dirk's rescue by helping her on her journeys, but ends up being more trouble than help. But his friendship, at least, never wavers.

Is it any good?

What began as an online comic by artist Tony Cliff is now a gorgeous, matte-print graphic novel that vividly brings the adventures of Delilah Dirk to the page. With lots of explosive action and near misses illustrated in panel after panel of dark reds, golds, and blues, Cliff draws readers into the world of 1807 Turkey, when soldiers like Erdemoglu Selim -- who becomes Dirk's companion -- served at the pleasure of the sultan, and were treated poorly for the privilege.

This glimpse into history, however unrealistic with a flying boat and Dirk's ability to vanquish dozens of soldiers at a time, offers young readers a curiosity trigger, and motivated kids might do some more research on the Turkish Janissary Corp or the Ottoman Empire. Both boys and girls will get a kick out of Dirk's thirst for adventure and justice -- no matter what the stakes -- and Selim's kindness and almost supernatural ability to brew a fantastic cup of tea offers a lovely contrast to Dirk's explosiveness.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the character of Delilah Dirk. Does she remind you of any other pop culture characters? What makes her different than or similar to other female characters in books or other media?

  • How does gender play out in this book? Who's strong and who's weak? What behavior or appearances follow traditional gender roles and what doesn't?

  • Author and illustrator Tony Cliff has never been to Turkey. Do you think it's OK for him to write about and draw a place he's never been? He's also never lived in 1807. Is it OK for him to write about that time period?

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