Tuesday, 28 December 2010
Right from the very first page, M.Alice's darkly elegant, highly elaborate illustrations pull the reader into the haunting, twisted world of Bizenghast, an old town which seems to exist on the brink of mist and memory, overshadowed by a terrible past and bordered by deep forest. Orphaned protagonist Dinah is a troubled girl who has been sent to live with her aunt in Bizenghast; unfortunately the town's dark secrets, ghosts - which only Dinah can see - buried bodies and other horrible apparitions are not exactly conducive to Dinah's already-fragile mental state.
When Dinah and her caring, considerably-more-level-headed best friend Vincent (the perfect foil for the only-just-sane Dinah) discover a mysterious graveyard hidden in the forest, and the sunken mausoleum at its centre, they unwittingly stumble into a binding contract to free the restless spirits bound within the vaults of the mausoleum - or Dinah will die.
Bizenghast has been described in several other online reviews as a Tim Burton-esque Gothic horror, but I felt that the story is considerably darker than average Burton fare, especially with big-eyed, Gothic Lolita-clad Dinah suffering fits and hovering on the edge of madness. The artwork is incredibly detailed, particularly the architecture design, and the costumes are stunningly rendered - is it sad that I'm jealous of a fictional character's wardrobe?
I would love to rave on about Bizenghast a little longer, but don't want to give away any spoilers from the following volumes - however, let me just note that: Bali-Lali, the sunken mausolem's semi-arachnid caretaker, scared the bejeezus out of me in this volume; Edaniel is absolutely the cutest little spirit-creature-whatever-he-is; and the series gets better and better as it unfolds, as the tangled history of Bizenghast and all its dark secrets become entwined with Dinah's nocturnal visits to the mausoleum to free the sleeping spirits bound within.