FYI: Most of the links on this page will take you to web pages that are in French, as this is a translated work and the author and illustrator are based in France.
Generally, I am a fan of Drawn & Quarterly graphic novels – who doesn’t like books published by an independent, Canadian publishing house based in Montreal? However, when I first placed a hold on this book from the new graphic novels list, I had no idea what I was getting into.
Looking at Beautiful Darkness, I just thought the cover illustration was gorgeous and interesting. Indeed, the illustrator Kerascoët, the pen name for Marie Pommepuy and Sébastien Cosset, are very talented and have worked on many different books together. A preview of Beautiful Darkness is available from the publisher’s website, if you want to check out the artwork yourself. The author, Vehlmann Fabien, is fairly prolific as well, although only a few of his works have been translated into English and are available through the library.
Although I skimmed the description of the book on the publisher’s website, by the time I had the book in my hands, I'd all but forgotten what I read, and so I didn’t really realize how dark it was going to be.
In Beautiful Darkness, we don’t know where Princess Aurora or her tiny friends came from (or how they wound up inside the body of a dead girl), and why they’re wandering and homeless. The book starts off with Aurora attempting to find homes and make a community for the group, but this quickly falls apart when different members don't get along and become abusive.
With death and decay both prominent themes throughout the book – as well as murder, greed, betrayal, revenge, and all that gritty stuff – “evil writ tiny” seems an apt description. Called an anti-fairy tale, this book contained elements that strongly reminded me of fables I’ve read – the spoiled princess from the original Frog Prince and characters in Thumbelina both come to mind. It also reminded me of both The Borrowers by Mary Norton and, later in the book, of Princess Mononoke, only much darker and more disturbing. (Okay, Princess Mononoke is a little dark and disturbing to begin with).
Overall, I loved it. Dark, disturbing, and retold fairy tale elements? Count me in.
Reader be warned - don’t be fooled by the gorgeous artwork the way I was. Beautiful Darkness is pretty, but Grimm.
If you've already read Beautiful Darkness, what other fairy tales did it make you think of?