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grandville-noel-coverReleased: November 2014

Grandville Noel is a wacky, ludicrous creation with beautiful colouring, a unique setting and an engaging mystery. A continuation of the Grandville graphic novel series, Bryan Talbot’s story is billed as a detective-based, fantasy ‘scientific-romance thriller’. With a description like that, how could I say no to reviewing it?

Set on an alternate world, or parallel Victorian reality, societies across this version of Earth comprise of the ‘normal’ citizens – badgers, horses, rats, monkeys, dogs and so on – and the discriminated minority, the ‘doughfaces’, otherwise known as humans. In this reality, animals rule the world and humans are treated as the lesser species, the hairless, furless freaks. Our hero is the badger detective inspector LeBrock of Scotland Yard, a man with a strong moral compass and stubborn streak, making him the perfect foil for the various villains of the world. According to a briefly laid-out history at the beginning of the novel, this Britain had been under French rule following defeat during the Napoleonic War, but this rule was ended 23 years previously after a revolution took place.

With the setting established, how about the plot? Well, into this Victorian-era comes a preposterous conspiracy: the second coming of the messiah in the form of a charismatic, hypnotic, toga-wearing Unicorn named Apollo, who leads a cult that may or may not be kidnapping teens and murdering innocents. And what’s more, it’s all set over Christmas. You’re probably thinking wow, this sounds like a magical graphic novel to give the kids this year. Or, not. This novel is bloody, violent, naughty (badger sex!) and at times, creepy. Characters manipulate, abuse, fight and kill. Racism is rife, terrorists are active, drug-dealers run riot and the protagonist is secretly sleeping with a prostitute from Paris.

Although this may all sound laughably silly, it is actually a well-designed and cleverly plotted novel with heavy overarching themes of religion, mob mania and class strife. Beginning as a missing person’s case, the story slowly unravels into something far more bizarre and far more exciting. LeBrock soon teams up with another agent from out of town, an American ‘doughface’ investigating the same mystery as LeBrock, who has no desire to fit in to the stuffy, old-fashioned society of nineteenth-century Europe.

This can be read easily in under an hour, but you may as well take your time with it to savour the gorgeous artwork, Bryan Talbot’s wit, and both the subtle and overt references to our actual modern history. It isn’t the most obvious choice for a Christmas-themed read, but it is certainly a refreshingly inventive book to add to your bookshelf.

★★★

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