Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët – Jolies ténèbres (Beautiful Darkness)

It’s no secret that I love the French and the way they treat comic books. This graphic novel kept being recommended to me by various engines (Goodreads, Amazon) until I couldn’t ignore it anymore. After browsing a few reviews, I was sold. Don’t let the cute art fool you, this is one hell of a dark story!

jolies tenebres

by Fabien Vehlmann

English title: Beautiful Darkness
Published by: Dupuis, 20019
Hardcover: 96 pages
My rating: 8,5/10

First sentence: He’s coming! He’s coming!

Kerascoët’s and Fabien Vehlmann’s unsettling and gorgeous anti-fairy tale is a searing condemnation of our vast capacity for evil writ tiny. Join princess Aurora and her friends as they journey to civilization’s heart of darkness in a bleak allegory about surviving the human experience.  The sweet faces and bright leaves of Kerascoët’s delicate watercolors serve to highlight the evil that dwells beneath Vehlmann’s story as pettiness, greed, and jealousy take over.  Beautiful Darkness is a harrowing look behind the routine politeness and meaningless kindness of civilized society.


beautiful darkness“Anti-fairytale” is the most accurate description I can think of, so well done, blurb-writers.  With a cover like that (or the English one, pictured on the right), and warnings about this story’s darkness, it isn’t hard to imagine that the larger of the two characters pictured is probably a human body. This suspicion turns into fact after only a handful of pages – and that’s when the real horror begins.

Aurore had just invited Hector for tea when suddenly reddish goo drops down on them and Aurore barely makes it out of her home – the now dead girl’s body –  onto dry land. She ends up next to the corpse of her former apartment (if you can call it that) along with many of her friends and acquaintances, all of whom look like dolls and puppets and things from a child’s toy collection – or a child’s imagination… Together, they try to build up their civilization from scratch, collecting food, building shacks, and keeping good manners alive.

All of this sounds very cute and the drawings and colors give the same impression. The decision to write a story in such stark contrast to its art was a brilliant one if you ask me, as it hits all the more home when these creatures cannibalize each other, send someone to certain death, or watch others succumb to illness without so much as batting an eye. To give you but one example of the seriously dark twists, have a look at this hungry ballerina trying to get some food by pretending to be a baby bird:

jolies tenebres birds

There are scenes far worse than this, believe me. As the young girl’s corpse decays and the seasons change, fewer and fewer of the little pixies are left. But this isn’t merely a collection of cute little creatures dying left and right (though it is that too), it’s the story of Aurore, the good-hearted girl at the center of everything. Despite her best efforts to build a society, to keep everyone fed, to be fair, and to establish friendly relations with the neighbouring woodland creatures, she has to learn that life sometimes just sucks and stabs you in the back whenever you’re not looking.

Starting as a lovely, innocent, even naive young girl, she ends up as a princess of revenge. Although I liked her best of all, the other  characters are worth mentioning too. Take the guy who seems to do lots of work but secretly “delegates” every job to some other poor soul. Or the pretty princess whose selfishness threatens to kill half the population. Or the disfigured cast-out whose fate just makes me want to cry. Also, the baby everybody seems to have forgotten. The birds, hedgehogs, bats, and ants are the opposite of what you’d find in a Disney movie. Not only do they refuse to sing, they will gladly gobble you up if you cross their path. Not to forget about other human-sized folk that might live nearby… The characters in this story show just how quickly people are willing to turn on each other in a difficult situation, how fast we devolve to base survival insticts, how easily we’re willing to kill.

jolies tenebres aurore

Beautiful Darkness can be read as a series of terrible events, or as the brutal coming-of-age tale of one young fairy tale creature. An interesting theory is that the dead girl’s personality literally spilled out of her after dying, and that the little pixies represent aspects of who the girl was – her naive dreams, her romantic hopes, her secret cruelties… But whether you read it in little chunks or devour the entire book in one sitting (I dare you not to!), it is exactly the anti-fairytale it promised to be. And as I still tremble with horror, I already catch myself eyeing the book to pick it up and give it another go.

MY RATING: 8,5/10 – Absolutely excellent!

divider1Second opinions:


FTF Book Review: Vivian Vande Velde – The Rumpelstiltskin Problem

Yeah yeah, Fairy Tale Frenzy is over but I still owe you a couple of reviews.  This little book of alternate versions of Rumpelstiltskin can be read in one sitting and so was very well suited for my current busy schedule (consisting of work, work, and to even things out, some more work).

rumpelstiltskin problemTHE RUMPELSTILTSKIN PROBLEM
by Vivian Vande Velde

Published by: Harcourt, 2000
Ebook: 128 pages
My rating: 7,5/10

First sentence: Once upon a time, before pizzarias or Taco Bells, there was a troll named Rumpelstiltskin who began to wonder what a human baby would taste like.

Fairy Tales Retold

  • Rumpelstiltskin


Have you ever wondered just what was going on when that odd little man with the long name stepped up and volunteered to spin straw into gold for the miller’s daughter? If you stop and think about it, there are some very peculiar and rather hard-to-explain components to the story.
Vivian Vande Velde has wondered too, and she’s come up with these six alternative versions of the old legend. A bevy of miller’s daughters confront their perilous situation in very different ways — sometimes comic, sometimes scary. Most of the time, it’s the daughter who gets off safely, but sometimes, amazingly, Rumpelstiltskin himself wins the day. And in one tale, it is the king who cleverly escapes a quite unexpected fate.


It’s true that Rumpelstiltskin has quite a few problems. As a child, I may have wondered about why he wanted the miller’s daughter’s firstborn child, but I never paused to think about all the other oddities the tale presents. In the author’s note, Vivian Vande Velde casually counts up all the things that are wrong with the fairy tale. And believe you me, there is very little that’s not wrong with it.

Some of the more striking questions are: Why would the miller say his daughter can spin straw into gold, knowing full well she can’t? Why would Rumpelstiltskin – who can spin straw into gold – accept a gold ring or necklace as payment? What possessed the miller’s daughter to promise him her firstborn child? And what’s with the king, letting the girl spin gold for three nights, immediately marrying her after that, and then never expecting her to spin gold again? It just doesn’t make any sense!

Irumpelstiltskin problem2n six little alternative versions, Vivian Vande Velde explores ideas that make the story a little less ridiculous and more believable, sometimes keeping the magic, sometimes finding perfectly mundane reasons for what happens. You get a Rumpelstiltskin who wants to eat a human baby, just to see what it tastes like. You get a domovoi who just wants his house to be in order, a female Rumpelstiltskin hungry for love, a Rumpelstiltskin who is a pretty elf, and you even get a story or two with no Rumpelstiltskin at all.

I loved every single way Vande Velde turned this story on its head. Mostly, the miller’s daughter isn’t half as stupid as she is in the Grimms’ tale, but sometimes I rooted more for Rumpelstiltskin than for the humans. In the very last version, it is the king who deserves our empathy and needs to outsmart those around him. The author still keeps a distinct fairy tale-ness to her versions (repetition, the number three, magic, and so on), but she updates the characters to smart, logically thinking people with reasons behind their actions.

The language is modern and colloquial. The backflap says “reading level 10+” and I’d say that’s a fair assessment. Children can read this easily, because as fairy tales should, the writing is simple and feels like somebody telling you a quick story before tucking you in at night. That’s why I also believe this would be a great book for reading out loud. The narrator begins each story with “Once upon a time, before bread was plastic-wrapped and sold in supermarkets, there lived a miller named Otto and his daughter, Christina.” or something in that order. It sets the scene to the distant and unknown fairy tale past, but it also grounds the stories in the present.

My favorite part, though, was the sense of humor. It’s clean and family friendly but at times so insightful as to make me chuckle out loud. The hungry Rumpelstiltskin from the first story “A Fairy Tale in Bad Taste” for example, is desperately trying to buy a baby for cooking – without much success at first:

Rumpelstiltskin could not find a single merchant selling baby. The closes he came was a woman who countered by volunteering to sell him her teenager, but even then Rumpelstiltskin doubted it was an entirely serious offer.

Vande Velde also ends her tales in great closing lines which I won’t quote here – at least three of them made me laugh. She knows how to make sure her readers gobble up her words (there aren’t that many, to begin with) and close her book with a big fat smile on their faces.

This little collection may not do outrageously innovative things with narrative, language, or setting. But it makes an old fairy tale, whose true meaning has apparently been lost over the ages, a little more understandable. It adds internal logic to a world of magic and makes each ending all the more satisfying for it.

RATING: 7,5/10  –  Very good

divider1Table of contents:

  1. A Fairy Tale in Bad Taste
  2. Straw Into Gold
  3. The Domovoi
  4. Papa Rumpelstiltskin
  5. Ms. Rumpelstiltskin
  6. As Good as Gold

Terry Pratchett – Witches Abroad

It appears that, despite my reading resolutions, half a dozen ongoing challenges, and recommendations from friends and fellow bloggers, I am making my way through the Discworld series without so much as a pit stop. So it will come as no surprise that, after jumping around in the series rather wildly, I picked up the next (chronological) Witches novel.
When Terry Pratchett says “Witches are abroad”, they literally go abroad. With Granny Weatherwax’s practicality and Nanny Ogg’s immesurable knowledge of how to say things in “foreign”, what could possibly go wrong…?

witches abroad1WITCHES ABROAD
by Terry Pratchett

Published by: Corgi, 2013 (1991)
ISBN: 0552167509
Paperback: 368 pages
Series: Discworld #12
My rating: 8/10

First sentence: This is the Discworld, which travels through space on the back of four elephants which themselves stand on the shell of Great A’Tuin, the sky turtle.

It seemed an easy job . . . After all, how difficult could it be to make sure that a servant girl doesn’t marry a prince?
But for the witches Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick, travelling to the distant city of Genua, things are never that simple. Servant girls have to marry the prince. That’s what life is all about. You can’t fight a Happy Ending. At least — up until now.

It’s fairy tale time. If you think that Witches are the only female magic-users on the Discworld, you forget a very important branch – fairy godmothers. Young Magrat inherits one late fairy godmother’s wand and the job that comes with it. There is a princess-turned-scullery-maid in Genua who must be kept from marrying the prince. Of course, this is Terry Pratchett, so expect every single fairy tale to be turned on its head, every cliché subverted, and every witch in Granny Weatherwax’s coven to be smart enough to see the bigger picture and realise that a Happy Ending isn’t necessarily what’s in the story book.

This is part travelogue, part mystery, and part crazy fairy tale. When the witches set off on their broomsticks and fly to Genua, there is much fun to be had. Little things like Nanny Ogg’s travel provisions, the fact that she brings Greebo, the cat, along, and Granny’s broomstick trouble make the journey all the more delightful. I was particularly enchanted and amused by Nanny’s ability to speak “foreign” and (more or less) translate words into English. On one of their stops, Granny Weatherwax once more shows her skill in playing cards, this time the famous Cripple Mr. Onion. Also, Nanny Ogg accidentally invents postcards and the little notes she sends home to her son Jason are hilarious. Misspelled words included.

Nanny Ogg sent a num­ber of cards home to her fam­ily, not a sin­gle one of which got back be­fore she did. This is tra­di­tional, and hap­pens every­where in the uni­verse.

witches abroad full cover

Terry Pratchett knows his fairy tales. While this Discworld book focuses mainly on Cinderella, influences of other well-known and not so well-known stories slip into the witches’ adventure. Take Mrs Gogol’s house, for example. You can see it in the (very green!) full cover illustration above. Anyone who’s ever heard of Baba Yaga will recognise that house on chicken’s legs immediately.

But even if you’re not a friend of fairy tales, classic or obscure, there are many more things to amuse and delight. If you’ve ever wondered, for example, if Discoworld had its own Casanova, search no longer. That is all I will say on the subject because he is best enjoyed without bias. I also loved Discworld’s take on racism. There is none. Because the inhabitants are too busy with speciism, nobody cares what color your skin is, just so long as you’re not a goblin. Of course, this is meant to be taken with a grain of salt, but I believe it shows Pratchett’s amazing gift when hiding real-world issues in Discworld without wielding the morality hammer. Sometimes when I read his books I feel that he just gets it.

Another pleasant surprise was that we find out a bit about Granny Weatherwax’s family and her upbringing. She is still a mysterious (and absolutely wonderful) character, but I believe she became much more human in this novel. Nobody needs worry, though. She is still a fond user of “headology” and her success rate remains incredible.

Some­times Ma­grat re­ally won­dered about the oth­ers’ com­mit­ment to witch­craft. Half the time they didn’t seem to bother.
Take med­i­cine, for ex­am­ple … Granny just gave peo­ple a bot­tle of coloured water and told them they felt a lot bet­ter.
And what was so an­noy­ing was that they often did.
Where was the witch­craft in that?

Having read Maskerade first, I had assumed certain things as facts without asking myself where they came from. Here was the genesis of one character’s transformation and it goes to show the author’s talent. I didn’t feel like anything was spoiled. Sure, I knew beforehand what would happen to the character but going back in time felt more like a privilege and a pleasure rather than catching up on a spoiled ending. Well done, Sir Terry!

I am getting to the point where I try (in my head) to rank the Discworld novels I have read so far. Tiffany Aching is still way ahead of anyone else, but Witches Abroad may just be my favorite Witches book yet. Let’s see if Lords and Ladies can kick it off its throne. Did I mention I’m already halfway through that one? What I’m saying is: Read the Discworld books.

RATING: 8 –  Excellent

divider1The Witches novels (Discworld):

  1. Equal Ritesgranny and nanny
  2. Wyrd Sisters
  3. Witches Abroad
  4. Lords and Ladies
  5. Maskerade
  6. Carpe Jugulum
  7. Tiffany Aching (sub-series)
    1. The Wee Free Men
    2. A Hat Full of Sky
    3. Wintersmith
    4. I Shall Wear Midnight

Angela Carter – The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories

It’s funny how books lead to books and authors lead to authors, sometimes. In this case, a lot of different books and authors I had enjoyed all somehow pointed in the direction of Angela Carter and I firmly wanted to make Nights at the Circus my first read. Then, that reading slump got in the way and I picked the short stories over the novel. So fairytale retellings it was, and I have been shown yet another time how diverse and wide the literary field really is.

bloody chamberTHE BLOOD CHAMBER (and other stories)
by Angela Carter

Published by: Vintage, 2007 (1979)
ISBN: 9780099511090
Paperback: 176 pages

My rating: 7,5/10

First sentence: I remember how, that night, I lay awake in the wagon – lit in a tender, delicious ecstasy of excitement, my burning cheek pressed against the impeccable linen of the pillow and the pounding of my heart mimicking that of the great pistons ceaselessly thrusting the train that bore me through the night, away from Paris, away from girlhood, away from the white, enclosed quietude of my mother’s apartment, into the unguessable country of marriage.

From the familiar material of fairy tales and legends – Red Riding Hood, Bluebeard, Puss-in-Boots, Beauty and the Beast, vampires and werewolves – Angela Carter has created an absorbing collection of dark, sensual, fantastic stories.

Table of Contents:

The Bloody Chamber
The Courtship of Mr. Lyon
The Tiger’s Bride
The Erl-King
The Snow Child
The Lady of the House of Love
The Werewolf
The Company of Wolves


I stumbled across Angela Carter’s name while looking for writers similar to Cat Valente. Carter kept coming up as a prolific author who based her stories on mythology and fairytales, a feminist writer with deeply strange novels – that all sounded taylor-made for me. I was not disappointed. The book blurb promised dark retellings of Red Riding Hood, Beauty and the Beast, and – the titular tale – Bluebeard. Ranging in length and style, every story offered something original and most of them kept the promise of being dark and adult.

The Bloody Chamber is the first and longest story in this collection. A young girl marries an older, rich man and is taken to his castle. When leaving for a business trip. the Duke hands over the keys to every single door in the castle, all of which she is allowed to explore – with the exception of one room. Of course, that is the room she goes hunting for and where she makes a terrible discovery…
Two things impressed me immediately. This being my very first book by Angela Carter, I wasn’t quite prepared for her gift with language. The prose is powerful and vivid and conjures up images that create atmosphere. Where other writers spend pages upon pages describing in minute detail a setting or feeling, Carter needs one sentence and no more.

His wedding gift, clasped around my throat. A choker of rubies, two inches wide, like an extraordinarily precious slit throat.

At first, I simply adored the imagery and atmosphere of the story, but once the heroine finds the bloody chamber, the plot becomes the center of the story and I actually had chills running down my spine, fearing – just like the heroine – for her life. The ending was particularly satisfying because the protagonist does not need any prince to save her life. She is far from helpless but when help is needed, it comes in a rather unexpected shape – at least for a fairytale.

The Courtship of Mr. Lyon and The Tiger’s Bride are both retellings of Beauty and the Beast. They become a lot more interesting in their juxtaposition than they would be each on its own. While the first tale is very straight-forward, featuring a tender, sad, and shy beast slowly winning over the good-hearted Beauty’s heart, the second story is darker. The girl is gambled away by her father and thusly confined to the Beast’s castle. Both stories feature a transformation at the end, but they differ in tone and one of them may not end quite the way Disney envisioned it.

Puss, the Puss in Boots story represented here, was possibly my favorite tale. It is much lighter in tone and theme than the first three stories. What struck me the most was the rhythm of the language. It was poetic, not in the sense that it was flowery or painted elaborate pictures in my mind, but simply in the way that these words wanted to be read out loud. There are no rhymes in the story, it was just Puss’ narration that had a melody all its own.
I also came across this gem of a sentence which demonstrates the overall style very well.

I went about my ablutions, tonguing my arsehole with the impeccable hygienic integrity of cats, one leg stuck in the air like a ham bone; [click here for visuals]

The plot made me giggle as much as did Puss’ narration and his utter cat-ness. Like any good fairytale, it features a villain, a beautiful girl, a love-sick hero, and a couple of cats without whose cleverless their love might never have worked out. Whether it was Puss’ preference for certain architectural styles (because they are easier to climb) or his scheming with the tabby cat, this was a delight to read.

bloody chamber3The Erl-King was my least favorite story, not because it was bad – the language and description are as impressive as ever. But it isn’t really a story. I am quite familiar with the poem Der Erlkönig (everybody reads it in school) and while this strange being, living in the forest, somehow being the forest, was fascinating, I didn’t really recognise the creature from the poem. This tale is clearly sexual in nature with a girl describing how she embraces the Erl-King on the forest floor, his eyes the color of wet moss, his hair full of fallen leaves. But this story doesn’t really have a plot.

The shortest story, only a few pages long, was The Snow Child. At first, I expected something Snow Queen themed but once the husband, who is riding out with his wife, is wishing for a girl as white as snow, as red as blood, and as black as a raven’s feather, it became obvious which tale was being retold. Again, I commend Angela Carter for bringing characters to life on just a few pages, on telling a story and giving us an original ending.

While not strictly a fairytale retelling, The Lady of the House of Love is a vampire story, and a melancholy one at that. The Duchess, damned and living lonely in her darkened mansion, despises her bloodlust but succumbs to it nonetheless. Her cycle of bringing young men to her house, seduce them and feed on them, is weighing heavy on her soul (if vampires have souls, that is). When a young, virgin officer arrives at her house, she is blinded by his purity (and his blond hair) and knows him to be the lover the tarot cards predicted. I loved the imagery of this story even more than in The Bloody Chamber. It is the man who is a virgin and whose blood will stain the bedsheets on their “wedding night”, it is the woman, soothing him by saying she won’t hurt him, she will be gentle.
I didn’t even care how the story ended because being submerged in these themes and that setting was a joy. I wouldn’t have minded reading a longer story or even a novel about the sad vampire Duchess and the English officer.

The last three tales all feature werewolves of a kind. The Werewolf retells Little Red Riding Hood, with the girl being on her guard and defending herself against the wolf only to find out what she had truly done at the end. I loved the set-up of the story, set in this harsh, cold country that sprang to life from the pages – and I equally loved the twist at the end. But my favorite werewolf story was The Company of Wolves, another retelling of the same story with the red-scarved girl meeting a hunter instead of a wolf and making a bet that he can reach her grandmother’s house before her if he goes through the woods, instead of staying on the path. The story follows the fairytale to a large degree, even containing “What big eyes you have” and so on. But I bet even the wolf didn’t expect Red Riding Hood to turn the ending on its head in that way. I loved it!
The last story, werewolf or otherwise, was Wolf-Alice. Alice herself is not a werewolf but a human who has been raised, for a while, by wild wolves in the woods. As she is found by humans they try to make her civilized, put her in dresses, wash her – only to cast her out because she is still a wild beast inside. She is sent to the Duke who suffers loneliness because of his own particular affliction.This tale was both heartbreaking and a little anti-climactic, although it does frame the collection beautifully in mentioning a bloody chamber once more when the little wolf-girl first menstruates and doesn’t know what is happening to her.
That said, it is a rare thing to read about menstruation in fiction at all – as if we were still living in the dark ages, when it is something to be hidden and be ashamed of.

In the end, I found something to love in every one of these stories, most obviously the fantastic language. Carter may not spend a lot of time describing her characters’ surroundings, but by throwing in French or Italian words and phrases, manages to create a sense of place without long expositions. Whether we are in France, in some undefined North country, dealing with Italian nobles or a Romanian Duchess, the atmosphere was graspable and real. Now that I’ve had my sample platter, I am more than ready to read a full Angela Carter Novel. I can’t wait to see what she does when she has more pages at her disposal for character development. I can only imagine it will be quite brilliant.

Catherynne M. Valente – Six-Gun Snow White

You’re probably getting sick of this. But here is another book that deserves all kinds of superlatives and that I can’t shut up about. To my attentive readers, this will come as no surprise at all. Cat Valente has been rocking my reading world since last year but 2013 is particularly Valente-heavy. I just can’t keep my hands (and eyes) off her books. And the amazing, surprising, even unbelievable thing is that every single one of them is brilliant. If I haven’t said it before, I’ll say it here: Catherynne M. Valene is easily my favorite writer.

six gun snow whiteSIX-GUN SNOW WHITE
by Catherynne M. Valente

Published by: Subterranean, 2013
ISBN: 9781596065529
Hardcover: 165 pages

My rating: 8,5/10

First sentence: I accept with equanimity that you will not credit me when I tell you Mr. H married a Crow woman and had a baby with her round about the time he struck his fortune in the good blue, which is how folk used to designate Nevada silver.

From New York Times bestselling author Catherynne M. Valente comes a brilliant reinvention of one the best known fairy tales of all time. In the novella Six-Gun Snow White, Valente transports the title’s heroine to a masterfully evoked Old West where Coyote is just as likely to be found as the seven dwarves.

A plain-spoken, appealing narrator relates the history of her parents—a Nevada silver baron who forced the Crow people to give up one of their most beautiful daughters, Gun That Sings, in marriage to him. With her mother’s death in childbirth, so begins a heroine’s tale equal parts heartbreak and strength. This girl has been born into a world with no place for a half-native, half-white child. After being hidden for years, a very wicked stepmother finally gifts her with the name Snow White, referring to the pale skin she will never have. Filled with fascinating glimpses through the fabled looking glass and a close-up look at hard living in the gritty gun-slinging West, readers will be enchanted by this story at once familiar and entirely new.

dividerI’ll be honest, this time around the style took a little getting used to. This is, however, entirely my own fault. I am still right in the middle of The Orphan’s Tales and my head (and heart) has a lot of trouble letting go of that world. But when this hardback beauty arrived in the mail, there was no way I wasn’t going to devour it, and soon. Especially because I thought, when I bought it, I was just getting the “regular” hardback, not numbered or signed or special in any way (other than being a Cat Valente book and, therefore, inherently special). I was all the more surprised when I opened it and saw this:


Yup. That is mine. All mine. Even my boyfriend squeed with me (because guess who gets to hear even more gushing Valente fangirl rants from me than you guys?). A bit of research showed me that there were only signed copies of this and I, without knowing it, snatched one.

Like I have mentioned before, fairytales were my very first contact with stories, tales that I knew so well I would correct my grandparents when they told me one. Retellings of fairytales are incredibly popular these days which does not mean that they are any good. Most YA retellings (Margo Lanagan totally excluded) simpy set the fairy tale in an different place or make it modern. Valente is cleverer than that. While transporting the story of Snow White into the west, making her father a miner and her mother a Crow woman, already adds an element of interest to the well-known story. Snow White’s childhood is not a happy one and she is reminded constantly – by her name if not anyone else – what she can never be. Beautiful and loved and white. The stepmother lives up to everything you’d expect from Snow White’s evil stepmother and that fact that she wraps her cruelties in a cloak of “love” makes it even worse.

She put jasper and pearl combs in my hair and yanked them so tight I cried – there, now you’re a lady, she said, and I did not know if the comb or the tears did it. She put me in her own corsets like nooses strangling my waist til I was sick, my breath gone and my stomach shoved up into my ribs – there, now you’re civilized, she said, and I did not know if it was the corset or the sickness that did it. She forbade me to eat sweets or any good thing til I got thin as a dog and could hardly stand I was so damn hungry – there, now you’re beautiful, she said and I did not know if it was my dog-bones showing or my crawling in front of her begging for a miserable apple to stop my belly screaming that made me fair.

For myself I thought: this is how you make a human being. A human being is beautiful and sick. A human being glitters and starves.

There are heartbreaking moments of cruelty in this novella, but then there are amazing moments of strength. I couldn’t quite figure out Snow White until the end, I could never be sure how she would decide in a given moment, but I had endless amounts of empathy for the little girl just trying to be loved by her new mother, for the lost woman trying to find a place where she can belong, but never quite fitting in anywhere.

Elements of the original fairytale were incorporated in a clever way. Apples are involved, the stepmother does visit three times, but Snow White is anything but stupid. Her character was nuanced, which made her quite different from the Snow White we may all know (from fairytales or the Disney version) but it also made her a believable person. There is a hunt but it involves guns rather than bow and arrow, and my favorite part was the shape the seven dwarves took in this alternate version. They brought me enormous amounts of happiness but I can’t tell you why without spoiling the fun a little.

This being a novella, there are few characters, but every one of them – even the ones who never get any lines – are three-dimensional. This is something that keeps impressing me. Cat Valente creates atmosphere and an entire personality within a short paragraph. Her style, while experimental and a little different in every book, has a fairytale-esque quality to it that never ceases to engross me. Even if the plot were shit, I could open any of her books and just fall into whatever paragraph my eyes would land on. That’s how beautifully she writes.

My only complaint about this book is that it could have been longer. Especially parts that happened toward the end, Red Deer becoming a character, Snow White sort of bonding with animals, were so powerful that I could have read on and on and on. They were cut short by the ending and I was a little sad about that. The ending as such worked for me, but then so would a completely different one. I consider it a good thing that Valente’s books aren’t about how it all ends, they are about everything that happens from beginning to end, they don’t rely on a big reveal at the end or even a huge climax. They just are. Whenever I read one of her books, I have that feeling of I don’t want this to end.


THE GOOD: Valente paints pictures of wonder and magic in your head, uses words in a way I have never seen before, and tells stories of strong women struggling through life.
THE BAD: I wanted more (or longer) scenes toward the end, more of the women’s village, more of Red Deer.
THE VERDICT: If you like fairytale retellings, mythpunk, or lyrical prose, you’ve come to the right place. This also happens to be a beautiful book (speaking of the cover, binding, paper texture).

RATING: 8,5/10  – More than excellent

You can read an excerpt on Tor.

Catherynne M. Valente – In the Night Garden

Do you remember how, in The Neverending Story, Michael Ende would start telling us about a side character, only to drop his or her story with the sentence “but that is another story, and shall be told another time”? The Orphan’s Tales is what happens when you don’t stop, when each character gets to tell their story, and when all these stories are intricately and beautifully entwined to form a breathtaking whole.

by Catherynne M. Valente

Illustrated by: Michael Kaluta
Published by: Spectra, 2006
ISBN: 0553384031
Paperback: 483 pages
Series: The Orphan’s Tales #1

My rating: 9,5/10

First sentence: Once there was a child whose face was like the new moon shining on cypress trees and the feathers of waterbirds.

Secreted away in a garden, a lonely girl spins stories to warm a curious prince: peculiar feats and unspeakable fates that loop through each other and back again to meet in the tapestry of her voice. Inked on her eyelids, each twisting, tattooed tale is a piece in the puzzle of the girl’s own hidden history.
And what tales she tells! Tales of shape-shifting witches and wild horsewomen, heron kings and beast princesses, snake gods, dog monks, and living stars each story more strange and fantastic than the one that came before. From ill-tempered mermaid to fastidious Beast, nothing is ever quite what it seems in these ever-shifting tales even, and especially, their teller.

My love for anything penned by Catherynne M. Valente knows no end. After the amazing and hearbreaking Deathless, I needed a recuperation period, if you will, some time to find back into the real world. Entering her books is like diving into a dream that you don’t want to wake up from. It was no different with In the Night Garden, and although Valente’s trademark lyrical style can be found within these pages, they tell stories vastly different from anything I’d read before.

The first thing any reader will notice is the structure of this tale. Nestled within the frame story – a girl telling a boy stories, secretly and at night – are more stories, which, in turn, contain yet more stories told by a wide and diverse range of characters. It is easy to think of it as a matryoshka doll, but the more I read, the more I understood that this complex and intricate structure resembles a tapestry much more than Russian nesting dolls. We follow one, or two, or five strings of story at a time, tie them off at the end, and begin a new set of stories. It becomes apparent to the attentive reader that these seemingly unrelated strings are interwoven, however, and that the very first tale has some connection to the very last. No matter the difference in time or setting, in some way, these stories are just part of one larger tale, and discovering the connections gave me endless amounts of pleasure.

Her voice was a whisper thick as wet wool.

The girl’s stories vary in setting and cast but each paint an incredibly rich environment, peopled by creatures that – no matter how otherworldly – feel utterly vibrant and alive. Among these pages, you meet foxgirls and the Marsh King, Stars and priestesses, a Black Papess and griffin. I would say there are hundreds of side characters but because every single character is given their own voice and gets to tell their own story, they are all protagonists. Some tales are heartbreaking, some end well, most don’t really end at all but leave room for imagination of things to come.

Seeing as there are so many different characters, I am stunned by Valente’s ability to give them each their own voice. While the Prince’s tale follows the tropes of a quest adventure, the Leucrotta’s story is wonderfully humorous and turns these tropes upside down. Depending on whether you are reading a polar bear’s story or that of a magyr (do not call her a mermaid, she will get angry!), their register and vocabulary varies, as does their tone. I find it hard to believe that all of these creatures stem from the mind of one woman.

“[…] mainly I’m King because I said I was, and nobody said any different. But this pier is as good as any throne room, and there are riches in every cage and pot. That’s how kings are made, my brush-tailed girl – they pick a place, shove a stick in it, call themselves King and wait to see if someone gets angry about it.”

And the praise continues. Rarely, if ever, have I read a book with such a diverse cast of characters. They come in all shapes and colors (literally) and from different parts of the world.  We meet characters with alabaster skin and hair like gold, a shipful of monsters, a people with skin like onyx, a seafaring satyr the color of trees, a foxgirl whose feet were bound when she was a child… I developed a particularly soft spot for the monsters. The Leucrotta was introduced in a way that led me to expect what the fantasy genre has taught me. Monsters bad, sword-wielding princes good. But even and especially the monsters get a voice in this story and I couldn’t help but fall in love with the Leucrotta and its sense of humor.

“Didn’t your mother teach you to be kind to monsters who completely fail to gobble you up?”

It must also be mentioned that, other than most modern fantasy books, this is a story celebrating women. Whether it is humans or monsters, women are shown in all their facets. If you Bechdel-test this book, I would pass a hundred times over. What I loved most about the women was probably the fact that there is more to them than being a beautiful princess or a goddess or what have you. Some of them are ugly, some of them are old, some are deformed and outcast, some are just plain lost souls, looking for a home.

No one cares for the likes of us freaks, but a whole stinking heap of us never caused the trouble of one Wizard in an ever-damned tower.

This loveletter to storytelling has enchanted me for the better part of a week. Drawing from folklore and mythology, Valente creates her own universe of myth and magic, mixing recognisable elements with more obscure or completely fabricated ones. Her lush, poetic language never fails to draw pictures brimming with life, and if it were for me, the Greek Gods can pack their bags. I’d rather go back to the night garden.

As you may have guessed, like the boy listening to the girl in the garden, I can’t possibly think of stopping now. As full as I am of stories that I will never forget, this is only the beginning…

THE GOOD: Amazing stories told by diverse characters, full of mythology and magic. A complex structure that will keep you on your toes. A world of wonder!
THE BAD: I suppose the structure is not for everyone. You do have to remind yourself whose head you are in whenever you put the book away and pick it back up.
THE VERDICT: This is what fantasy should be. Original, beautifully told stories, that open the readers’ minds and show just what one can do with ones imagination.

RATING: 9,5/10  – Close to perfection

BONUS: The illustrations by Michael Kaluta are gorgeous and I hope to see more of them in the second volume.

SECOND BONUS: If you are a Cat Valente fan, you have surely heard of S.J. Tucker. I bought her album “For the Girl in the Garden” to listen to while reading the book and I highly recommend it to people who enjoy music with their books. Not only do these songs evoke the atmosphere of the stories brilliantly, S.J. Tucker also reads little snippets of the book, incorporates the plot into her lyrics and overall made my reading experience even better.



The Orphan’s Tales

  1. In the Night Gardenorphans tales
  2. In the Cities of Coin and Spice

Second opinions:

Karen Lord – Redemption in Indigo

Originally, I had planned to read Lord’s new book The Best of All Possible Worlds first but couldn’t really get into the right mood. I loved the writing style, but the time wasn’t right for a science fiction travelogue/love story, and so I thought, why not read her debut novel first? While very different in style and premise, it intrigued me in a similar way. The novel stands out for its originality and its freshness, not for its plot. I had a lot of fun for a couple of hours and Lord is a talented writer that I’ll be following.

redemption in indigoREDEMPTION IN INDIGO
by Karen Lord

Published by: Small Beer Press, 2010
ISBN: 0043339158
ebook: 200 pages

My rating: 7/10

First sentence: A rival of mine once complained that my stories begin awkwardly and end untidily.

Paama’s husband is a fool and a glutton. Bad enough that he followed her to her parents’ home in the village of Makendha—now he’s disgraced himself by murdering livestock and stealing corn. When Paama leaves him for good, she attracts the attention of the undying ones—the djombi— who present her with a gift: the Chaos Stick, which allows her to manipulate the subtle forces of the world. Unfortunately, a wrathful djombi with indigo skin believes this power should be his and his alone.

Bursting with humor and rich in fantastic detail, Redemption in Indigo is a clever, contemporary fairy tale that introduces readers to a dynamic new voice in Caribbean literature. Lord’s world of spider tricksters and indigo immortals is inspired in part by a Senegalese folk tale—but Paama’s adventures are fresh, surprising, and utterly original.


When you start reading Karen Lord’s Redemption in Indigo, you will not be able to say just where the story begins. It is narrated in such a way that makes you believe another person is telling you the story, frequently breaking the fourth wall, jumping ahead in time or space, explaining to you that a character might not be all bad, despite what you’ve seen him do. Redemption in Indigo is almost like a conversation between reader and storyteller.

The first few chapters are a retelling of the Senegalese folktale “Ansige Karamba, the glutton” but Lord decided that the story shouldn’t end there. Paama is a magnificent cook, famed throughout the land for her culinary creations. Her husband is a glutton – a match made in heaven, one might think. If it weren’t for Ansige’s foolishness when it comes to food. He will eat anything, especially if he suspects somebody else so much as looks at his food. And Ansige considers all food his food. When he embarrasses himself and Paama in her own hometown, she decides to leave him, once and for all.

Ansige’s escapades in search of more food may be troubling and mortifying for Paama, but they were delightfully funny to read. Karen Lord takes on a fairy tale-esque narrative style, infused with a subtle sense of humor. In this very slim novel, she manages fantastic characterization that rivals many bigger books. She features strong women, several djombi, and to my particular delight – Anansi, the trickster god. And every single one of them is drawn with precision and love for humanity. In all their flaws and ugliness, their beauty and virtues, these characters jump from the page, and take residency in your head for a while.

Lord juxtaposes the magical with the mundane without effort and in case the reader is worried about the physics of it all, the narrator preemts any concerns.

quotes greyI know your complaint already. You are saying, how do two grown men begin to see talking spiders after only three glasses of spice spirit? My answer to that is twofold. First, you have no idea how strong spice spirit is made in that region. Second, you have no idea how talking animals operate. Do you think they would have survived long if they regularly made themselves known? For that matter, do you think an arachnid with mouthparts is capable of articulating the phrase “I am a pawnbroker” in any known human language? Think! These creatures do not truly talk, nor are they truly animals, but they do encounter human folk, and when they do, they carefully take with them all memory of the meeting. (page 20)

redemption in indigo1My favorite part was easily Ansige’s tribulations but the story really starts when Paama is given the Chaos Stick, a wooden stick holding the power of making the possible probable, and so changing the course of the world, butterfly effect style. This idea really spoke to me and wouldn’t have minded seeing more of it. Being the central McGuffin of this tale, the Chaos Stick actually takes a place in the background when we are introduced to the Indigo Lord, a djombi fallen from grace. All I’m going to say is that Karen Lord kept more than one surprise up her sleeve when it came to him.

As you’ve probably guessed, I absolutely loved the beginning of the book and I enjoyed the rest of it. But at times I felt that it tried to encompass too much for such a limited amount of pages. I can’t say that any of the characters wasn’t fleshed out enough, even Paama’s sister felt real to me (not necessarily likable, but real). I can’t complain about the story arc, or Paama’s development. But there were side characters whose fate interested me and I never got to read about anymore. The narrative voice, while being utterly enchanting, also kept some distance between me and the characters, making it harder to fully engage with them.

Overall, this was a charming fairytale, retold and continued by a writer well worth following. Karen Lord brings something fresh and new into fantasy, not just because she used an African folktale as inspiration but because she breaks the rules and boundaries of what much of the genre is doing at the moment. And I just love trying new things.

THE GOOD: A funny, light tale with every word in its place, great characters and a wonderful ending.
THE BAD: The characters were somewhat distant, some side characters deserved more screen time. Plotwise a bit forgettable in the end.
THE VERDICT: Recommended for everyone who wants something different than you average epic fantasy. This is a perfect book for a cozy afternoon, spent with trickster gods, objects controlling chaos, creatures with indigo skin, and one woman in the middle of it all.

RATING: 7/10 –  Very good

Review: Catherynne M. Valente – Deathless

People have warned me of this book’s heartbreaking ending. Well, it was heartbreaking from beginning to end and I’m afraid this will be one of my less coherent, more gushing reviews. If my girly outbursts of excitement and love for this story make you interested enough to pick up the book, then my work here is done.

by Catherynne M. Valente

Published by: Tor, 2011
ISBN: 0765326302
Hardcover: 352 pages

My rating: 9,5/10

First sentence: Woodsmoke hung heavy and golden on the short wheat, the earth bristling like an old, bald woman.

Koschei the Deathless is to Russian folklore what devils or wicked witches are to European culture: a menacing, evil figure; the villain of countless stories which have been passed on through story and text for generations. But Koschei has never before been seen through the eyes of Catherynne Valente, whose modernized and transformed take on the legend brings the action to modern times, spanning many of the great developments of Russian history in the twentieth century.

Deathless, however, is no dry, historical tome: it lights up like fire as the young Marya Morevna transforms from a clever child of the revolution, to Koschei’s beautiful bride, to his eventual undoing. Along the way there are Stalinist house elves, magical quests, secrecy and bureaucracy, and games of lust and power. All told, Deathless is a collision of magical history and actual history, of revolution and mythology, of love and death, which will bring Russian myth back to life in a stunning new incarnation.


Catherynne M. Valente was born in a lake, grew up in fairyland, and brought home from there an enchanted quill with which she pens her stories. Or so I’ve decided, at least. After having enjoyed her books for children more than I ever thought possible, I took a peek into her work for adults. What a journey this has been. Initially, I wanted to go slow, knowing how this author’s words want to be savored and enjoyed, melting on your tongue. But as I read and read, I couldn’t ever find a good place to stop. With barely the absolutely necessary stops (bathroom, food) I raced through this magical tale and I still can’t find the words to describe its wonder.

Marya Morevna sits by the window and sees a bird falling from a tree, turning into a handsome man who whisks away her oldest sister. This happens twice more with her other sisters, only Marya is left birdless. However, one day Koschei shows up on her doorstep, demanding to take away the girl in the window, and Marya follows him into his world of vodyanoy (didn’t I just meet those in Perdido Street Station?) and rusalkas, firebirds and Baba Yaga.

deathless alternateThis is the part where one half of my brain demands to write in ALL CAPS and simply shout at you how awesome and brilliant and astoundingly beautiful this story is. Madame Lebedeva and, oh Zemelhyed who moved the earth and water, and how heartbreaking is Koschei? The mythology is so intertwined with the real world and the real threats in Soviet Russia, I found myself wondering whether I’m one foot in Russia and one foot in Koschei’s land, or simply somewhere in between, without straight borders.

It broke my heart. Over and over. While at first, I noticed (and delighted in) a certain Pan’s Labyrinth like quality about the story, it soon drew me in deeper and did exactly what a good story is supposed to do. Made me feel ALL THE THINGS!

[…] because it’s boring to keep telling stories where people just get born and grow up and get married and die. So they add strange things in, to make it more interesting when a person is born, more satisfying when they get married, sadder when they die.

Cat Valente spirited me away into a land where dreams live on knuckles and deaths can be hidden away. Instead of gushing on about her prose – and in case you don’t know yet: it’s sheer perfection – here are some quotes to illustrate just how firm a grip on her craft this woman has.

And so Olga went gracefully to the estates of Lieutenant Gratch, and wrote prettily worded letters to her sisters, in which her verbs built castles and her datives sprung up like well-tended roses.

I met so many strange creatures in these pages, horses that talk, the Tsar of Death, Baba Yaga (did I mention how awesome she is?), and let’s not forget some Stalinist house goblins.

“Marya Morevna! Don’t you know anything? Girls must be very, very careful to care only for ribbons and magazines and wedding rings. They must sweep their hearts clean of anything but kisses and theater and dancing. They must never read Pushkin; they must never say clever things; they must never have sly eyes or wear their hair loose and wander around barefoot, or they will draw his attention!”

The further along I got in this book, the more I felt like I was within a dream. Its magic swept me completely off my feet and if my memory will not fail me completely until the end of it, I will now go on record and declare this one of my favorite reads of the year. That’s how fantastic this book was. It is one of the best books I have ever read. Period. I’m sure it can take on whatever I tackle in 2013.

Did everything that had magic have teeth?

But of course, war doesn’t only rage in Leningrad. The magic world is fighting a war all of its own and Koschei and Marya are right in the middle of it. Sometimes, the symbolism made me weep, sometimes the characters’ actions. I had not expected to grow to love Koschei as much as I did. There were a few key scenes that honestly brought tears to my eyes, not necessarily because sad things happen (although many do, don’t let me deceive you) but simply because Cat Valente has worked us up to such powerful moments where emotion just bursts out of the pages. If it was neither the characters nor the story nor the symbols strewn about this tale, it was the sheer beauty of her writing and the way certain sentences hit home so hard.

You will always fall in love, and it will always be like having your throat cut, just that fast.

Already I look back at this story with yearning and a sense of wonder only Catherynne Valente can pour into paper, packed between two covers.

“I am no one; I am nothing. I am a blank paper on which you and your magic wrote a girl.”

THE GOOD: OMG this is so beautiful, it tore out my heart and made me jealous, why can’t I write like that, how fantastic is this woman’s brain, seriously? I love everything about this.
THE BAD: Seriously?
THE VERDICT: I don’t feel qualified to sum up my feelings about this book in one sentence. Just go read it.

RATING: 9,5/10  Almost perfect – leaning towards a 10

Just like Genevieve Valentine’s Mechanique, I will re-read this soon and if it holds up, this will be turned into a 10/10.

dividerRelated articles

Catherynne M. Valente – The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There

I am having a love affair with Cat Valente’s writing and I’m not ashamed to admit it. When the first Fairyland Novel (The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her own Making [German review]) stole my heart by storm and left me breathlessly hoping for a sequel, I knew Miss Valente was going to be and stay a favorite.

by Catherynne M. Valente
illustrated by Ana Juan

Published: Feiwel & Friends, October 2nd 2012
ISBN: 1466828005
Pages: 272
Copy: ebook
Series: Fairyland #2

My rating: 9,5/10

First sentence: Once upon a time, a girl named September had a secret.

September has longed to return to Fairyland after her first adventure there. And when she finally does, she learns that its inhabitants have been losing their shadows — and their magic — to the world of Fairyland Below. This underworld has a new ruler: Halloween, the Hollow Queen. And Halloween does not want to give Fairyland’s shadows back.


September, September, oh how I’ve missed you. The 12-year-old and quite heartless girl from book one has grown up a full year and yearns to go back to Fairyland. After all, she left her precious friends, Ell, the Wyverary and Saturday, the Marid, there. As the real world grows more tiresome and oppressive, September grows up a little bit without even noticing. But she doesn’t let go of Fairyland.

Whenever she thought those dark thoughts, that she might just be a silly girl who had read too many books, that she might be mad, September glanced behind her and shuddered. For she had proof it had all really happened. She had lost her shadow there, on a distant river, near a distant city. She had lost something big and true, and could not get it back.

More melancholy than the first book, but bringing the same, whimsical and poetic tone to its prose, Catherynne M. Valente shows yet again what incredible talent she has. Her plotting, her characters, the twists and turns along the way, all fit beautifully together, like puzzle pieces made entirely of cake icing. As September explores Fairyland-Below, the themes grow darker with her surroundings. But I enjoyed every moment in this dark underground world as much as I did the upper Fairyland.

This book is full to the brim with wondrous ideas and it is a true Revel to discover all of them. I have had the pleasure of meeting the Duke of Teatime and his wife, the Vicereine of Coffee, a real Sybil, an eel train, I learned about the mathematics of quests and unopenable boxes. Fairyland is a place where you can farm poetry and keep memories in your pocket. While the tone of the first book reminded me heavily of one of my all time favorite books, Peter Pan, this one read closer to Valente’s voice. Complex language and not-entirely-happy endings are her currency and I hope she will never change.

I believe, this book can be enjoyed on many levels. An adventure story, first and foremost, but full of hints and references that only grown-ups will understand and that made me smirk with a particular kind of glee only the best books can make me feel.

“A book is a door, you know. Always and forever. A book is a door into another place and another heart and another world.”

In short, if you enjoyed the first Fairyland novel, you will love this one as well. I hope there are many more to come and that we will have a reunion with a certain Night-Dodo, called Aubergine, that I’ve grown strangely attached to. But that’s how stories work. They make you see through another person’s eyes and live another person’s dreams. EKT.

THE GOOD: Another fairyland adventure told with exquisite language, peopled with original, lovable characters, and did I mention shadow twins?
THE BAD: The tone is whimsical and light but I felt the language was more complex than in book 1.  I would certainly like to challenge my future children with that, but maybe you won’t?
BONUS: Another set of beautiful illustrations by Ana Juan. And I urge you to watch the book trailers, the music by S.J. Tucker is just beautiful!
THE VERDICT: Another remarkable book by one of the best fantasy authors around. This fairytale has everything you could possibly want from a book and I wish another ten parts of the series were written and published already.

RATING: 9,5/10  Very close to perfection


The Fairyland series:

  1. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
  2. The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There

Other reviews:

Régis Loisel – Peter Pan (Comics)

When I lived in France I spent a lot of time at our local médiathèque – library, video store and study hall all wrapped in one – and decided to expand my horizons a bit. The French have a wonderful tradition when it comes to comic books. Not only do they write a lot of comics that aren’t only about superheroes but deal with very adult and partly grim topics. They are also proud of that and every bookstore I’ve been to in France had a comic book section that was as big as the English sections here in Austria are. Long story short, this is the best thing I’ve read during my stay in the country of baguettes and delicious cheese.

PETER PAN (6 volumes)
by Régis Loisel

published: Vents d’Ouest, 1990-2004
ISBN: 2749302676
pages: 472
copy: 6 hardcovers
series: Peter Pan #1-6

my rating: 9,5/10

This version story of the boy who would not grow up is written for adults. Peter starts out as an almost-orphan in the streets of London and is taken away to Neverland by a fallen star that turns out to be the fairy Tinkerbell. There, he meets with pirates, mermaids, Indians, and a group of creatures living in the forest. He also meets their leader. The satyr Pan.

It becomes clear very early that this isn’t your cute Disney version of Peter Pan. In the very first scenes, Peter has to bring a bottle of alcohol to his abusive mother – without any money, he is forced to indulge the pedophiles in the bar and let his pants down to “earn” his mother’s bottle of wine. The story starts out grim and Peter’s journey to Neverland offers little relief. Because Neverland is populated by its own cast of mythical creatures and plagued by its own problems. Be it Peter’s trip to the island of Opikanoba, which holds uncounted terrors, or the constant war against Hook and his crew, there is always trouble brewing.

There are many things that fascinated me about this adaptation of the popular children’s story. First, it’s not your happy paradise full of pretty fairies and adventures that always end well. It’s dark, it’s full of evil, there is frequent nudity (fairies wear next to nothing and mermaids and centaurs are naturally topless), there is murder and grime and a lot of blood. This is not a children’s story! Peter’s innocence and forgetfulnes bring wonderful contrast to how ugly the world is – whether it’s Neverland or our world.

The characters come alive in Loisel’s drawings and they seemed a lot more believable to me. A bunch of boys wouldn’t just accept Peter as the leader, they’d question him or want to take over his job. Tinkerbell, a fairy we know to be jealous, goes to extremes to get rid of potential competition for Peter’s attention. And Hook is a troubled man who is not only there for comic relief.

I love Régis Loisel’s style. Both his writing and his art are breathtaking. His squiggly lines gave Neverland a character and I particularly enjoyed how versatile his characters’ looks and expressions are. Female characters are usually voluptuously round, sometimes even chubby, and we get to see boobs in all shapes and sizes. Like I said, it’s not a book for kids but any grown-up will be delighted at the range of body shapes and creatures that roam this magical island. Tiger Lily and her Indian tribe use their own language and there are hints at sexuality all over – which also help to show just how much Peter wants to stay a child forever.

I devoured the first five volumes in one go at the library but the final volume wasn’t available. And before I could find a copy at a bookshop, I left France for home. Since then, I’ve been pining to find out what happens to Peter, Clochette (Tinkerbell), Hook, and Merilin. Finally, I got my hands on an affordable copy of the last book Destins and I was equally swept away and taken to that magical land that, as dark as it is, was wonderful to dive into.

The ending is surprisingly dark, even compared to the first books, and the last volume had a few moments that made me catch my breath. Barrie himself wrote a very appropriate last sentence to Peter Pan.

[…] and thus it will be going on, so long as children are gay and innocent and heartless.

While these comic books can be read as a sort of prequel to the original story, they end on a similar note. The reader can be hopeful for Peter, the eternal child, yet there are some truly dark themes and Loisel made them more obvious than Barrie. Reading these left me uncomfortably touched. On the one hand, I’m enthralled and enchanted by the mythology Loisel has added to J.M. Barrie’s Neverland, on the other hand, he plunged me into the deepest, most vile places within the human heart and left me with an emptiness inside.

In conclusion, this is an emotionally wrecking work of art. There are moments of joy and moments of fun but the dominant note is a sinister one. And it will not let you go…

THE GOOD: Amazing new take on a well-known tale, grim, dark and gorey. Beautiful art that transports you to a different world.
THE BAD: Definitely not for children. At some points, people may be put off by how gruesome it gets.
THE VERDICT: Recommended to people who like Peter Pan, comic books, and stories that take unexpected turns.

RATING: 9,5/10  Close to perfection

Peter Pan:

  1. Londres
  2. Opikanoba
  3. Tempête
  4. Mains rouges
  5. Crochet
  6. Destins

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