Wednesday 7 December 2011

Review: Mirabilis - Year of Wonders: Winter Volume One by Dave Morris and Leo Hartas

There is a green comet in the sky and things are getting strange. Every day, fantasy and reality are getting harder to tell apart. Witches in bottles, warmongering cabbages from the planet Pluto, and a pterandon roosting on the Eiffel Tower. Or is it a pterodactyl? Jack Ember is caught between two very unreliable mentors. Talisin is a two-thousand year old wizard or an escaped madman - or possibly both. The Kind Gentleman is the sort of fairy godfather who will grant you three wishes you can't refuse. Both of them have plans for Jack, who's spent his life dreaming of adventure and now is about to get rather more of it than he bargained for.

Last year David Fickling Books started to release a number of books featuring work that had originally appeared in The DFC, a weekly comic that ran back in 2008/2009. Whilst researching The DFC I stumbled across this website, and instantly fell in love with the gorgeous artwork and the intriguing story concept. From that moment Mirabilis - Year of Wonders became a graphic novel that I had to lay my hands on. When I spotted that it had been published in a softcover edition over in the US I was sorely tempted to splash out, but decided instead to wait for the hardcover edition that was scheduled for release by Print Media. The wait was a little longer than had been originally suggested as the books were printed abroad, but it was worth every single impatient minute and every penny. This is a stunning book, published in a large format hardback, and printed on a good quality glossy paper that lets the artwork really shine.

Mirabilis: Winter starts on 1st January of an undisclosed year that is very soon to be christened the Year of Wonders. The first panels introduce us to Lieutenant Jack Ember, a young man who has had the misfortune to be challenged to a duel over a girl he had barely met, by an arrogant young officer called Dougie McNab. As the duel is about to start a green comet streaks across the night sky, heralding the start of the Year of wonders, a time when magic and other strange happenings start to become commonplace. Jack survives the duel but is stung on the face by a wasp, sending him into a deep fever. Whilst he is incapacitated his regiment ships out for India, and jack awakes to find he is to "run fool's errands for a bunch of old fogeys". Little does he realise that these "fool's errands" will see Jack embarking on a quest that is loaded with action, adventure and many, many more fantastical mysteries.

To say any more about the story would be to spoil it for you. There is a new surprise on almost every page, and one of the best elements of this story for me was not knowing at all what was going to happen next. What I will say is that Jack finds himself travelling across Europe on the Orient Express in the company of Estelle Meadowvane (the girl he fought the duel over) and his fellow duellist, McNab (if I describe him as a prig, you will know exactly what I mean if you are of a certain age). As their quest progresses they encounter vampires, a demon known as The Kind Gentleman, a pteranodon roosting on the Eiffel Tower (or it could be a pterodactyl), and even a Doctor Jeckyll (this one is called Gertrude, but she still comes with that certain potion).

Dave Morris's story is at times a little strange (butin a very good way), and it is also truly enchanting. This is in no small part due to Leo Hartas's incredible artwork. Every new page brings another series of beautifully drawn panels, with every one of the characters and strange creatures realised in stunning detail. Added to the mix is the colour work of Nikos Koutsis, who renders Hartas's images with a palette that perfectly matches the tone of the story.

This is one of my favourite books of the year, and I believe it is a graphic novel that will have cross-generational appeal. Adults who love the graphic form of storytelling will, like me, want to linger on every page, soaking up the detail and smorgasbord of colour. Younger readers will delight at following the fantastic story, and then want to come back to the book again and again. I am certainly looking forward to the next volume, and the other volumes that I believe will eventually follow.

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