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History, Mystery and the Power of Symbolism
from regular graphic novel guest blogger, Francisca Goldsmith:
Mark Siegel’s experience in the graphic novel idiom is long, deep and informed by international strains and precepts. He brings all this to bear in a narrative that plumbs the mysteries first brought to literary ears by Homer: how very like the Sirens’ song is man’s belief in true love. An idiomatic spine of Siegel’s steamship (but not steampunk!) romance is the artful and world-opening use he makes of doubles: brothers, boy pranksters, a bestselling author’s identity and passions, Twain’s name as well as his female muses. In Siegel’s hands and storytelling choices this double-ness is neither a simple motif nor a clever embellishment. Instead, by repeating the fact of double—this but that, this AND that—we as readers and viewers have our insight brought gently and inexorably into focus. We are where we came from and where we are now; we make ourselves and are under the power of others to form us; there is magic in reality and reality in our experiences with the magical.
And, showing the perfection of the story’s cycle: prologue and coda meet and form a circle of the tale between them. Siegel has created a masterpiece that holds both ends together, shadowed as they are in the grey light that is both dream and confrontation with reality.
Adult/High School–Beautifully crafted both in narrative and plotting, this adult fantasy blends history, geography, mythology, and the timeless human concerns with romantic and erotic love. In 1887, Captain Twain has been in charge of a steam vessel plying New York’s Hudson River. The boat’s French builder is assumed dead and his rather effete brother has come to America and aboard the boat. He appears to be wholly occupied with wooing females of any and all ranks on ship, from domestic servants to Mrs. Vanderbilt. Meanwhile, Twain hauls aboard a wounded mermaid, hiding her in his quarters while he nurses her back to health through the aids of fish and stories. A popular (and fictional) author of the period, one C. G. Beaverton, who has exchanged letters with the Frenchman, meets the boat to make a press appearance, shocking all both by her (!) progressive politics and her feminine identity. Siegel pulls together these strands and many other well-orchestrated threads to weave a tale of the split lives–and deaths–that humans seem destined to suffer as individuals of our species, working with the symbolism of “twain” without manhandling away its possibilities. The pencil shaded art is filled with distinct characterizations, movement, drama, and the capacity to recount some passages wordlessly. This is a full-fledged adult novel, accessible to mature fantasy and historical fiction readers as well as serving as a serious antidote to pop-culture mermaids.–Francisca Goldsmith, Infopeople Project, CA
Filed under: Graphic Novels
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.
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