Book Review: Evermore by Isobelle Carmody and Daniel Reed

I’ve been a bit remiss in reviewing Carmody and Reed’s graphic novel, Evermore, as I have read it some time ago. Particularly because this book is a treasure.

I am not always an avid reader of fairy tale reboots for adults – probably because getting it right requires a great deal of skill by a writer, but if it is very well constructed, it is an absolute pleasure to read. This is the case with Evermore, and especially when it was wrapped in visual magic.

Evermore is a story written through the point of view of Princess Rose, a teenager confined to a keep by a ruthless King. The language is the English of the fairy tale, archaic in form. The clothing of the princess, and her limited companions are medieval in style, as is much of the architecture of the princess’ home. And yet, from the very beginning, there is the sense of a post apocalyptic setting, and modern technologies are glimpsed or referenced. This is a mysterious juxtaposition, sitting elegantly on the pages, but at the same time forming an uneasiness in the narrative.

Without providing spoilers, Rose discovers her heritage is more complex than she had thought and with her growing conspicuous womanhood, will be the object of suitors’ desires. She learns that it is unlikely she will be wed, but instead, suitors who will battle for her hand will all end in agonizing deaths. She needs to escape her nightmare world to where her mother had originated, across a desolate desert.

I simply can’t say much more about the plot. It would be unfair to you, the reader.

It is my understanding that Evermore was a story that was written before it transformed into a graphic novel. And while there are a scattering of pages that contain reasonably long passages of text, compared to rich illustrations with quantities of text what readers are normally used to, it is not a downside to the work. The words are evocative, strong, and unmistakebly carries the protagonist’s voice.

Daniel Reed’s artistic skills do not expand Evermore’s story – it compliments it. Aside from extraordinary quality of art in terms of rendered characters and depiction of the world settings, it is also fresh and artistic in terms of the way Carmody’s words are woven among the frames. Colour and tone choice is generally dark and tending toward monochrome, adding to the atomosphere of bleakness of a post apocalyptic world, and depressed by tyranny. The words are typed with a derelict typewriter, which has forced the protagonist to add the ‘f’s by hand, as the f/F key is missing – the reader can’t miss it, but instead of being a distraction, it anchors the reader deep into this world. Reed loves to skew images and text in odd, quirky angles, again adding to the uneasiness of Rose’s predicament.

Evermore isn’t a standard sized graphic novel; it is a sizeable 135 pages long. It is a fairy tale but it is fresh and atmospheric, and has a unique backdrop. The story is original, with a fantasy style, but ultimately driving into a science fiction conclusion. We don’t have a helpless princess being rescued by a prince – instead we have a girl growing into a woman, and with the aid of the sacrifice of caring friends and drawing from her mother’s strength of character, a heroine who withstands the greatest of tests, without the need to resort to violence. We have tragedy and palpable evil depicted, but at the same time we have triumph of love and devotion. The conclusion isn’t a classical fairytale ending, as Carmody realistically depicts the price that sacrifice and suffering must reap. And yet the story’s ending is still a fairy tale.

It boggles my mind that Evermore hasn’t been shortlisted in the Aurealis Awards as I am sure it will linger longer in the minds of its readers than the majority of graphic novels produced in Australia in 2015. I’m still scratching my head.

This piece of art deserves 5 stars out of 5.

Book Review: Ferryman by Jonathon Wise

Paul Goat Allen, B&N speculative fiction reviewer, says that 2012 will be the year for post apocalyptic fiction, in no small way to do with the media beat up of the Mayan end of the world predictions. I heartily agree, not just because of his logical reasoning, but because if Jonathon Wise's new novel, Ferryman, is indicative of what's turning up in 2012, I'm happy to read many more.

Ferryman is, in my mind, treating well worn tropes in a fresh way, and I am impressed with the extent to which he raised the bar in this sub-genre of science fiction. These are, in my mind, the main reasons why it is fresh:

1. There are no zombies.
2. There are no zombies. There, I got that out of the way.
3. While there have been top notch virus-based post-apocalyptic fiction in the past – the one that comes to mind as one of the best, was Michael Crichton's The Andromeda Strain, most such stories are focused on the main protagonists solving the problem – finding the cure for the virus, snuffing out the contagion, or some other rescue technique. This is goodness, but it is also, in mind, rather well-worn. Ferryman is clearly about the effects of the virus that affects humanity (and in fact, most animals – naaaasty), but this is secondary, the backdrop. This story is about people – how they are affected in various ways by a catastrophic disaster and how the human spirit rises. Again the human spirit thing is not new, but the way Wise balances the science/effects and placing focus on those who survived, is remarkably fresh.
4. This isn't about good versus evil, which is so well constructed by Stephen King in The Stand. There is definitely evil generated in the aftermath of the pandemic, but it isn't intrinsic. It has reasons attached to it, explored in detail by Wise's excellent narrative. There are moments in his story that wrench your heart – both in terms of brutality as well as sacrifice or unjust loss among some of the characters the reader emphathises with – this is a differentiating feature of the Ferryman.
5. The conclusion. I won't give it away, but I found it appropriate, well balanced, and unexpected. We don't have a cataclysmic good versus evil clash, nor a laboratory cure of a disease. But we have a very good ending nevertheless.

Ferryman is appropriately titled because the main protagonist is a man who, through complex and evolving reasons, turns into a hero. A man who saves others, by getting them from one place to another. A ferryman. Wise develops complex and vivid characters, which is certainly another key feature of this novel.

This is a stand-out novel of 2012, and well aligned with the popular interest in post-apocalyptic fiction (I should mention here that no mention is made of the Mayan end of world prediction – this is also, in my mind, refreshing).

Five well deserved stars.