Title: Voyages in the Underworld of Orpheus Black
Author: Julian Sedgwick, Alexis Deacon (Illustrations), Marcus Sedgwick
Release Date: August 13th 2019
Publisher: Walker Books US
Genre: Historical Fiction
Goodreads Rating: 2.33 (of 3 ratings)
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Harry Black is lost between the world of war and the land of myth in this illustrated novel that transports the tale of Orpheus to World War II-era London.
Brothers Marcus and Julian Sedgwick team up to pen this haunting tale of another pair of brothers, caught between life and death in World War II. Harry Black, a conscientious objector, artist, and firefighter battling the blazes of German bombing in London in 1944, wakes in the hospital to news that his soldier brother, Ellis, has been killed. In the delirium of his wounded state, Harry’s mind begins to blur the distinctions between the reality of war-torn London, the fiction of his unpublished sci-fi novel, and the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.
Driven by visions of Ellis still alive and a sense of poetic inevitability, Harry sets off on a search for his brother that will lead him deep into the city’s Underworld. With otherworldly paintings by Alexis Deacon depicting Harry’s surreal descent further into the depths of hell, this eerily beautiful blend of prose, verse, and illustration delves into love, loyalty, and the unbreakable bonds of brotherhood as it builds to a fierce indictment of mechanized warfare.
Disclaimer: I received this ARC courtesy of Candlewick Press. I am grateful for the opportunity to review an ARC for my readers, but this will not influence my final rating. All opinions expressed in this review are my own and based solely on the book.
This was an odd but intriguing read. I really didn’t know too much about it besides the fact that it was part graphic novel, part story covering World War II. It seemed like an interesting premise, plus add in mythology, and I was willing to give it a try. While it was slow and a bit confusing in parts, it was quite fascinating and not like anything that I’ve certainly ever read.
This story is a mix of journal entries, poetry from a different narrator, and drawings. I wasn’t sure how well it would come together and work, but it actually worked quite well. Although the illustrations were pretty good, I didn’t need them so much, and the story worked well without it. The poetry was narrated from an “Orpheus” character that was watching out for our Harry and would allow us glimpses into what was happening that wasn’t covered in the journal entries, references to the original story of Orpheus in Greek mythology, and more.
The journal entries were definitely where the story shone for me. They are honestly some of the best journal/diary entries that I’ve ever read. They didn’t go into too much detail that you wouldn’t include had you not been writing it, and it was always interesting. It has a bit of an unreliable narrator aspect to it, which you could pick up on cues in Harry’s writing for plot and what might not be real/what is real.
The plot was definitely a haze of questions – was this real? what was happening? what is gonna happen next? If you know the mythology of Orpheus – thank you recent Percy Jackon’s Greek Heroes read for helping this gal out – you can definitely pick up some key elements on where the plot might go. However there are some twists and turns that pop up. The plot also created a dark, haunting mood that was pretty interesting.
The pacing was a little bit lacking. I was never fully invested in the story despite the intrigue, but it moves a bit slowly even though there is a lot of action. The poetry aspect definitely slowed me down and sometimes it would get stuck in talking about certain items such as the evils of war. It really dragged me a bit out of the story, and there were parts that did just get confusing with it.
The last issue that I had was the disconnect that I felt with it. I never really felt strongly for the story or the characters or the plot. They were all okay, but I never got fully in deep.
Overall, it wasn’t a bad read and there are definitely some parts that will stay in my mind. It just wasn’t the connection that I was looking for or wanted to have.
rating: a Belle rating
representation: Jewish side character
content warnings: death, war, discrimination
What do you think? Let’s discuss in the comments below!
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