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on November 1, 2012
Reason for Reading: Set in the 1880s, I wasn't about to pass this one by as it sounded just to my tastes.

Phenomenal! One of my favourite graphic novels of the year. This is a haunting, gothic story set in Victorian era New York, or to be more exact on a steamer upon the Hudson River. From the beginning prologue, the book is surrounded in mystery. The fog that fills the graphic panels also hovers heavily over the plot. Atmosphereic only begins to describe the aura one feels reading this book and I'll say that it didn't take me long before I forgot I was reading a graphic novel, per se. I was totally invested in these characters and the story was compelling, a real treat for someone looking for a spooky ghost story that involves much more than ghosts. On top of that the book examines love in its varied forms, how can one truly hang on to it, is temptation always too much to handle or can a certain kind of love stand against it. I was mezmorized while reading Sailor Twain and will be keeping this for a second read later down the line.

Be forewarned though that this is an adult book with frontal n*udity of both s*xes, and has s*x scenes. I thought they were represented very tastefully, just not something I would hand to anyone without knowing where their limits lay in that direction. Also there is cursing, including multiple use of the F-word.
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on October 2, 2012
One hundred years ago a steamboat traveled along the Hudson River, captained by a man named Twain. One dark rainy evening Captain Twain rescues an injured mermaid, carried her back to his cabin and began nursing her back to health. And from that one act of kindness a terrible event is set in motion, that will shape the lives and destiny of all involved--the captain, a French nobleman named Lafayette, and a reclusive author named C.G. Beaverton with a secret. For the mermaid has a secret and a curse...and she seeks to ensnare anyone that she can to help her. There's only one proven method for breaking the mermaid's curse. How many will fall prey to her powers? And how many will come out whole in the end?

Sailor Twain. That name just conjures up so many different memories if you're familiar with literature and Mark Twain. And while this story doesn't have Mark Twain in it (it doesn't reference him though) it does capture that essence of the river and its denizens. The characters are captivating and from that very first page you want to know what happens to them, what made them be the way they are, especially Lafayette, the French nobleman. And the situations the characters are placed in feel real, they make you wonder what you would do in a similar situation. Would you be able to avoid the temptation of the mermaid's call?

The thing I love most about this book is the sheer amount of research and historical content that Mark adds to the story. Dropping in names, characters, and places from the real world to create a fantastic and jaw dropping tale. FirstSecond is one of my favorite publishers, in part because they've been taking chances on the stories they tell and how they deliver these stories to the world. Lately they've taken to serialize some of the comics online--such as Tune, Friends With Boys, and this one--which gives readers a chance to build a community around the work, which ties into my favorite part of the historical context of the story given just how much is shared by Mark and the community at large. I love the fact that he shares in the blog what influenced him while creating this work, as well as sharing images and articles that fans dug up. I could see this being a great a book to use in a history class to help reluctant students see history come to life. Ok yes the teacher would have to explain the mermaid but still...even that was a part of lore during the time period. I wish that the printed book could capture all of the blog posts and the community built around this story. Hopefully once the book is printed the posts and comments will remain because they offer such great additional material.

I absolutely love Mark's illustrations. The smoky charcoal quality adds an air of mystery and suspense to the story. It makes it feel like we're really reading about something that happened on the banks of the Hudson a 100 years ago and I feel like I can hear the river lapping against the shore and the sound of the boats upon the river. And that's a feeling that I love. Mark's style reminds me of one of my other favorite FirstSecond works, Three Shadows. Although Three Shadows, charcoal lines are much more fluid and dynamic on the page, Mark captures some of that same intensity within the way his characters move and float on the page. The one thing that caught me a bit off guard with the print book vs the webbased comic is the paper choice. In the webbased version you can see that Mark choose a stark white paper to sketch upon, which adds an interesting dynamic to the story with the stark white vs. the stark black. The printed version is more of a cream color, which helps age the story and adds a different dimension to it, almost as if we're reading the diary of Captain Twain from a 100 years ago. I'm a little bit more partial to the webbased version paper, but for those that are just encountering the story for the first time the print version makes it feel like we're really diving into history. ***It should be noted that Mark draws the mermaid in her natural state, ie topless (I mean seriously what self respecting mermaid would war clothes?) Just in case you don't like that sort of thing.***

While the story stands alone, I recommend that readers also go and take a look at the blog and the community built there for some great extra material. This is great addition to any collection and I highly recommend it. I give the book 5 out of 5 stars.
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on October 2, 2012
A few months back I was perusing Tor's fall 2012 offerings and the blurb on a graphic novel coming out through an imprint called First Second Books caught my eye:
"One hundred years ago, on the foggy Hudson River,a riverboat captain rescues an injured mermaid from the waters of the busiest port in the United States. A wildly popular--and notoriously reclusive--author makes a public debut. A French nobleman seeks a remedy for a curse. As three lives twine together in an unexpected collision, the mystery of the Mermaid of the Hudson deepens...."

That the author/illustrator was both the Editorial Director of First Second and had award-winning books in his repertoire only added to my interest.

A copy of the book arrived here soon after, courtesy of friends at Tor. I read it in one day, though the book has more depth than most graphic novels do. That depth is in both the story and the luminous quality of much of the graphics that carry the tale. There were some remarkable moments, in both story and art, between the covers of this book. The drawings are not in color, which in this case is a good thing. It helps keep the art clear, avoiding a muddy nature which can come into some graphic novels. In fact, in this book, the black-white-gray almost charcoal feel of some of the panels helps create an ethereal quality to some parts of the story that slip more into the realm of fantasy and eroticism than fiction. I also really enjoyed the maps and article bits that made up the chapter pages.

One more thing which I really liked about this book was that the publishers chose to make this book hardcover, which gave it a different feel in the hand when reading -- sort of like the good mouth-feel of an excellent wine or coffee versus what you get from the chain down the street.

Thank you Tor and First Second for giving me such an enjoyable mind voyage down the Hudson and then some.
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on December 12, 2012
If you love old river boats OR mermaids OR exist as a human being you will probably like this story. The art is haunting, the story pulls you in. I don't want to give anything away, so I'm stopping there. Also it's pretty sexy in a something is very wrong here kind of way.
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on November 3, 2012
Disclaimer: I got a ARC via Netgalley.

Sailor Twain is a novel.
Not just a graphic novel, but a novel.
I know, we tend to only refer to graphic novels that people tend to apply that term to are Maus and Watchmen.
But this is a novel.

Sailor Twain tells the story of a steamboat on the Hudson River; in particular it is concerned with the boat's captain, a Captain Twain. Twain works for a Frenchman, who has been missing, and, therefore, at the moments takes orders from the man's brother, Lafayette. There is the mystery of the engine room, and there are a couple of strange stowaways who are likable because they are children who know how to read. Then Twain pulls something from the Hudson, a mermaid. A hurt mermaid.

Mark Siegel draws upon American literature and history, and world mythology to tell a story of love, loss, and strength. It is worthy of any grand opera or majestic work of literature.
I must admit that the charcoal drawing weren't done in the style that I was expecting (I'm not sure what I was expecting in term s of charcoal drawings), but they do draw the reader into the story. There is something about the style. It's somewhat like anime, somewhat European, yet wholly American. Whatever it is, it works. It suits the story.

And the story is the key. Told in parts and chapters, the story presents multi-layered characters in a conflict that is more than simple good against bad. Part of the story is the need to remove a curse, and this leads to a question about right and wrong. Despite the black and white of the drawings, the motives of the characters and the choices that must be made are not black and white.

Opening this book, even in the ARC galley form that I read does transport you to the Hudson of the later 1800s. You are there. You can smell the river, feel the boat move; in short, the reader becomes one of the passengers on that steamboat, something more than a disinterested reader. It is a way work - novel, poem, painting, comic - that can do that. This one can.
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on May 13, 2013
I read the first few chapters in the website and I was hooked. I thoroughly anticipated receiving this book so I can finally continue with my adventure. I guess the book itself is my siren's song! The book gets a full 5 stars for that alone.

The artwork is something I'm not very used to, but I found the style enjoyable and fitting for the story. I can't imagine this book without the charcoal adding to the mood. I was delighted to find the watery sea themes found everywhere, even the less obvious places. Scales are all over the women's outfits, as are other nautical motifs, further accentuating the overall charm and a haunting theme. Though I am surprised at the complaints about the style being too off-putting for the mood. Maybe the best way to approach this is with a more open mind in order to appreciate the artwork as a device for the story, and not to stack this against other comic styles. Capt. Twain may look like a muppet but I think I should remind everyone that TinTin also had a face like a snowman. I considered lending this book to my preteen brother, but I was a bit worried about the mild sexual content. For an adult, this is hardly shocking, but for a young adult, the content may be impressionable.

As for the story, I devoured the plot of this book so fast, I might've bit off my own hand at the end. What I liked about the story was the theme of "completeness" in many layers that can be extremely ambiguous. I don't want to say it's purely the old love vs. lust argument. It's more than that to me beginning with the obvious fact that mermaids are half human and half fish. And the main character with the blank face, as if he is just a shell of a person, not completely whole. Along the way, I was constantly thinking about the ways that these characters struggle to completion, leading me to question which of the many possible ways to interpret the story is more "whole". And exactly what side is the writer on?

If there were some objections I had to this book, it would be that I wish there would be more material near the end. I don't think this book started too slowly, but the ending could have had one or two intermissions between all the rising action that would've made it seem less rushed. However, I think the last few pages were well thought out.

I know I will come back to this book again in a few years with hopefully deeper understanding.
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on October 13, 2012
This is such a wonderful story. The artwork is magnificent! A very moody, mysterious feel. I love that it's hardback and I love that the set up is Chapters within Parts. Very well done. Absolutely lovely.
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on November 19, 2012
This story originally unfolded as an online serial web comic. The author is a fan of the more serious graphic novel form, so those used to lighter or more comic graphic novels will find something different here. It is a moving, haunting story that touched my heart in many ways; it is more complex than it seems on the surface. Part of this is, I think, because the author grew up in France and has some French sensibilities, so again, some of these may be foreign to American readers. It's worth a read with this in mind.

One of the interactive aspects of this book's development was that the author invited readers to submit a photograph of themselves, and he included them as cameo appearances as passengers above the Lorelei, the steamboat in the story. There are many little details like this within the artwork that cause the artwork to need to be as closely read as the text, or more so. The author communicates so much with pictures.

This book is a keeper for me, and I have given it as a gift to several friends. It is a real gem.
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on November 12, 2012
Victorian-era New York, a steamboat captain staying true to his ill wife, a lecherous boat owner and a mermaid, all wrapped up in a hardcover graphic novel. The beautiful charcoal drawings really help tell the tale, making more believable the danger of both night and water. Captain Twain pulls a wounded mermaid from the water and hides her in his cabin until she is healed, receiving her promise never to sing to him. But will she still pull him into the depths of the Hudson River? How many men has the mermaid captured with her song? Nudity and a few drawings of sexual acts might put off some readers but are entirely appropriate to the story. A very enjoyable read.
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on November 13, 2012
I don't often read a lot of graphic novels but after reading Sailor Twain, I would really like to. The book is simply amazing and the art is top notch. But above all else, the captivating story of love (and love lost for that matter) is extremely well done. Sailor Twain is a character that anyone can relate to and the temptation he undergoes can be synonymous with many things in today's day and age. I didn't have the slightest idea who Mark Siegel was before reading this book but now I'm on the lookout for more work by him.
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