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Beautiful Darkness Hardcover – February 25, 2014
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From School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—What starts as a common fairy tale trope—Prince Hector and Princess Aurora are having tea the day after a ball—quickly turns dark and disturbing. The prince is charming but self-absorbed, and the princess is somewhat flighty and unprepared, when the ceiling appears to fall in, and they find themselves in a dark forest filled with other refugees, all Borrowers-small. While Aurora and her friend Plim adapt to their surroundings, taking charge and feeding the others they have found, Hector is only concerned with staring into space. None of the characters notice the dead body that they are playing on and living around (a human-sized girl, also named Aurora), and do not question where the items they are using are from (quite possibly the corpse's purse). The forest's animals do not speak, distancing this from other fairy tales. The end does not find our characters rescued but living in the shack of a hermitlike human man, referred to as a giant. The artwork is cartoonlike and colorful, in contrast with the morbid and macabre tone. All of the protagonists are wide-eyed, though the animals and bodies are drawn realistically. Purchase where teens like their graphic novels and fractured fairy tales on the dark side.—Suanne B. Roush, formerly at Osceola High School, Seminole, FL
When Princess Aurora’s world implodes, she puts her courtship with the handsome prince aside to help make a life for herself and the other fairylike folk of her kingdom who inhabit this gorgeous, brutal book by award-winning French writer Vehlmann (Isle of 100,000 Graves, 2011). In scenes that mirror the worst of human behavior, the more Aurora blithely goes about putting things in order, the more those around her scheme, betray, belittle, and disregard everything our morality tells us the characters should care about. The delicate, haunting, and beautiful watercolor artwork by Kerascoët helps to enhance the fairy-tale setting, juxtaposing the small, petty characters perfectly against the lush blues, greens, and purples used to create the huge forest that surrounds them. The result is a story that shocks as it entertains and is predictably unpredictable. As the seasons turn and wide-eyed Aurora loses her amiable innocence, the reader is left not knowing whether to cry or cheer when Aurora finally decides she’s had enough. --Eva Volin
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Top Customer Reviews
Most of the little fairies don’t seem to have much personality or emotional depth, to the point that they seem indifferent to each other’s deaths (and those deaths happen frequently). In most books that would be a flaw, but in Beautiful Darkness it seems intentional. My interpretation – and this is only my interpretation, the book would easily support other readings – the fairies are the characters from the stories the dead girl made up to tell herself, somehow able to escape into the real world upon the girl’s death. A few of the characters were major protagonists or villains, and those characters have more personality; in particular, the main character, Aurora, goes through amazing development and changes as the story goes on. Most of the other fairies were just simple background characters, and act like it.
beautiful_pg28(About that name, “Aurora”: Early in the book, we see that the dead girl had a notebook with “Aurora” handwritten on the cover; I interpret this as meaning that this was the book the girl wrote stories about Aurora in, but I’ve seen other people suggest that the girl’s name was Aurora, and that the fairy Aurora is named that because represents the girls idealized self-image. Another possibility is that Aurora the fairy just named herself after the notebook.)
This book is brutal, ambiguous, incredibly original, and stuck with me a long time after reading it.
The artwork is excellent; Kerascoet (a pen name for a married pair of cartoonists, Marie Pommepuy and Sebastien Cosset) switches between a loose, airy cartoon style for the fairy-like creatures and impressive fully-painted realism for the big humans. (I’d find that sort of fully-painted realism heavy-handed and oppressive for a full comic, but here – used in brief passages interspersed throughout the book – it’s very effective at making the humans seem alien and often a bit threatening, and also quite beautiful to look at).
The story centers around what appear to be a bunch of small fairy-tale type folk who live in the woods. Or are they dolls come to life? And where did they come from, and how long have they been there? They almost feel as if they have just recently arrived, and at times you wonder if the small female lead is some manifestation of the real world body of a dead girl that is near their homes. As the only ethical person in the lot, she takes up the mantle of provider, trying to help others in this "lost boys" tribe of immature and bratty wee-folk, just as the decomposing dead body helps the nearby animals of the forest floor.
Fans of Vertigo's "Fables" will like this, particularly those who think that long running series is now growing a little stale and could use a shot of creativity like what is on display here. The painted color artwork is often cartoony but still proficient, and works well with the little houses and their interiors for animals (think David Peterson's "Mouseguard" series, "Stuart Little" , "A Cricket in Times Square", "The Rescuers", etc.). It also provides a nice foil to this fairy tale like story that starts out sweet but quickly turns the darkest shade of black. A strangely satisfying book considering it seems like it is both missing a beginning and leaves you wanting more at the end.
Originally published in France, this english hard bound version comes in at 94 pages. No information on the writers or artist is included, making who put this book together and what else they have worked on almost as much of a mystery as the story they wrote. If you're looking for something fresh and new this is a great way to go.
Usually I'm not really a fan of painted comics - often it results in a heavy-handed look that's artistically inferior to dynamic pure cartooning. But here it works - mostly because Kerascoet (A French husband/wife team) knows when to go for a beautiful realistic look, and when to use cartoonish characters.
As for the story - it's just brilliant. This is a very dark book - the art looks cute when you thumb through the pages, but make no mistake this is not a book for kids. This is like David Lynch and Hayao Miyazaki collaborating on a dark update of "Lord of the Flies" featuring fairy tale characters. And yes, there are flies here. And.... not a rotting pig head. It's something worse..... And don't expect everything to be explained - the narrative deliberately leaves things out.
The book should appeal to people (like me) who get off on cuteness and pure darkness played up against each other. And fans of David Lynchian graphic novels like Charles Burns' "Black Hole" and "Exed Out" and Chester Brown's "Ed The Happy Clown".
I'm happy to hear that this has reached the New York Times bestseller lists (probably due to Internet-savvy 'gothic' types sharing art samples online) - it deserves to be a future classic.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
The book is certainly not suitable for sensitive children, but it is a fascinating story.