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Joe Golem and the Drowning City: An Illustrated Novel

Christopher Golden and Mike Mignola first collaborated several years ago on Baltimore, or, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire (Spectra, 2007). Now they are back with a second novel collaboration, one that looks likely to become a series.

There is a terrific interview between Joe Hill (Heart-Shaped Box, Horns) and the two authors on It is especially interesting on the subject of illustrated novels. Can they do things that pure prose cannot?  What should (and shouldn’t) the illustrations try to accomplish? In the same piece, Golden names the novel’s (many) influences as “Sherlock Holmes and Houdini and H. P. Lovecraft and Dickens — to the less immediately obvious, which would be H. G. Wells and The Island of Doctor Moreau and Victorian ghost stories — to the obscure and personal, including a love of history and folklore and Pinocchio. But even with all of those things thrown into the stew of this novel, at the end of the day it’s much more about loneliness and a search for self and for purpose than it is about detectives and pulp heroes and mad scientists.”

The Slant Magazine reviewer calls it a mixture of monster fiction and myth and adds, “YA enthusiasts will find that it doesn’t pander to the young, providing a dark, sturdy story that will appeal to teenagers and adults alike. It’s also a gorgeous tome to behold, not least because of Mignola’s always-stunning artwork. His black-and-white illustrations provide stark windows into the world of the novel, never giving away too much so the reader’s imagination has room to experiment.”

MIGNOLA, Mike & Christopher Golden. Joe Golem and the Drowning City: An Illustrated Novel. 288p. St. Martin’s. 2012. Tr $25.99. ISBN 978-0-312-64473-4. LC 2012013269.

Joe Golem and the Drowning City

Adult/High School–Molly McHugh is a jaded, yet still good-hearted girl, living on the fringes of society with a strange old man called Orlov the Conjurer in a steampunkish alternate reality. A cataclysm in 1925 caused lower Manhattan and Brooklyn to flood and, ever since, resilient New Yorkers have adjusted, living on the top floors of mostly underwater buildings and getting around by boat and rope bridges. Felix Orvlov is not what he seems, but he is the closest thing Molly has to family and his kidnapping by the sinister Dr. Cocteau spurs her into a desperate search to rescue him. She  joins forces with a mysterious man named Mr. Church and his overlarge friend Joe, searching not only for Felix but also for a mysterious artifact called the Pentajulum, which holds the possibility of opening paths to other worlds. She faces many trials in her quest, but the more Molly learns, the more she realizes she doesn’t really know anything, and that most people are not what they seem–Mr. Church is more machine than man and Joe is literally made from stone and earth–and nothing is sure, not even the sanctity of death. Highly descriptive writing and grotesque imagery help to place readers in this truly fantastic setting with hints of elder gods and worlds beyond worlds. Enhanced by multiple points of view and deeply philosophical in its underpinnings, the lavish illustrations add immediacy to Molly’s world. Both teens who like their fantastic sprinkled with a little Lovecraft and steampunk and those who are interested in a wider view of the world should enjoy this.–Charli Osborne, Oxford Public Library, MI

Angela Carstensen About Angela Carstensen

Angela Carstensen is Head Librarian and an Upper School Librarian at Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York City. Angela served on the Alex Awards committee for four years, chairing the 2008 committee, and chaired the first YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adult committee in 2009. Recently, she edited Outstanding Books for the College Bound: Titles and Programs for a New Generation (ALA Editions, 2011). Contact her via Twitter @AngeReads.


  1. […] woman–seeks her kidnapped guardian and ultimately partners with a supernatural pair–one “more machine than man,” the other “literally made from stone and earth” to find […]