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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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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).
They think nothing of exploiting Aurora's naive industriousness or bowing down to the heartless Zelie because she's so beautiful and to do otherwise would bring their lives misery. Hector, the so-called Prince, is a navel-gazing moron and Plim, the capable right-hand man, is a bully as well as a toady.
The pixies, if I interpret correctly, are all archetypes that scampered out of the girl (the original Aurora) after she was murdered and are gradually subsumed by the pixie Aurora. Fascinating and haunting.
All of this is nothing new to humans. It's the art that makes this unique. It really is beautiful.
- the art really is incredibly gorgeous.
- the story and excecution is successful in that is GREATLY disturbed me, which is what it intended to do.
- I think what keeps me from loving it is that at many points the characters are inconsistent: at many points it lost track of characters' motives and drives. For example, at some point they found something gross and then at another point they found something equivalent to be no biggie.
- I think the author did a good job portraying cruelty but when no one around is bothered by it, it becomes banal and that detracts from the shock value.
So yeah, I have mixed feelings.
I'm also forever scared.
And even if you don't like the story, just look at that amazing art! Just wonderful watercolors.
I like to see it as the girl is society and the sprites and fairies are the citizens. Society crumbles and the people are left to fend for themselves. It's a very creative way to portray an end of the world scenario.
Some are naiive, some are compassionate, some are loners, some are survivors, some are selfish, some are blindingly stupid. Just like real life if our typical lifestyle was thrust into chaos.
"Beautiful Darkness" is a story to be read and reread. It's a cautionary tale as much as it is pure horror.