Surely the most elusive element of any storytelling is to have the reader completely unsure of where the tale is heading and what might happen next, but keep them caring enough about the protagonist that you’re willing enough to stick with them to find out. When I picked up this first book in the Marquis Of Anaon series I had not a clue as to what it was about, but within a handful of pages I was hooked. It’s historical setting, the bleakness of the lives of the islanders, the mystery of the circumstances and its innocent and well-meaning hero shape a scenario that keeps you on that figurative edge of your seat. Is this a book about simple folk struggling with the paranormal, or is it the fact that they know no better that it’s the only conclusion they can draw? Is it a book that embraces the supernatural as a narrative device or simply toys with our collective fascination to string us all along?
Jean-Baptiste is a young man offered employment on the Isle of Brac to tutor the Baron’s son, but from the boat journey that delivers him there he’s quickly aware that something isn’t quite right. However, being young and unexperienced, who is he to judge the behaviour and social conduct of others, especially when things turn nasty on the quayside and violence flares. By the time Jean-Baptiste reaches the Baron’s residence he learns that the son, Nolwen, has run off and is nowhere to be found, and it’s some time until he is located, supposedly killed from a fall from his horse that dragged him some distance. However, Jean-Baptiste has some medical training and notices inconsistencies with this explanation. Unable to leave the island, Jean-Baptiste must delve deeper into the superstitions and fear of the islanders, and a ghostly presence in the woods, to make sense of what’s going on; and his own life depends on it.
On its own the story itself would be an intriguing tale to read, but Matthieu Bonhomme’s artwork is the icing on the cake. His style isn’t over-worked, and complemented by Delf’s colours it is suitably sinister and atmospheric. His portrayal of Jean-Baptiste avoids the usual square-jawed, muscle-bound hero stereotype, and instead gives us a youthful innocent bewildered and yet determined. His style reminded me much of the excellent Eduardo Risso of 100 Bullets fame.
Exactly what this book is about, and what the series promises to be, I’ll leave for to discover, but I will say that this is an excellent opening chapter that I can’t imagine anyone will be disappointed by.
And if you liked that: Book 2 is available