Page 45 Review by Jonathan
"What is that? It's coming from the other side of the island."
"It's horrible! It sounds like a monster! Let's go inside until it stops."
"Ugh! It's those nasty mermaids!
"Give it to me!"
"I saw it first!"
"They've got something."
Indeed they do, but not for long as Bera, official pumpkin gardener to the Troll King, bops one of the mermaids - and they are quite the most gruesome mermaids you will ever see - on the head with a well placed gourd and retrieves the noisy creature which the loathsome sea beasts were tormenting. She's somewhat astonished to discover it's a human baby! Not surprisingly, she's equally perplexed about how it got there, bobbing away in the sea out in the middle of nowhere near her little carefully tended pumpkin patch of an island.
The fact that the wailing urchin is in a tiny cauldron should have been a clue, but when Cloote - former head witch of the Troll King - comes knocking at her door, looking for the misplaced vital ingredient for her mindless monster magic spell which she's planning on cooking up to worm her way back into the royal court, well, Bera knows she has to keep the baby out of Cloote's clutches and get it back to the safety of the human village on the mainland. Just one huge problem in her eyes: that's clearly an epic quest for a hero of legendary proportions, so Bera sets off to find one. Well, three actually by the time she's finished, none of whom prove remotely up to the job for various rather unheroic reasons.
Yes, little does Bera suspect she'll turn out to be the champion the baby needed all along! Assisted by her redoubtable owl Winslowe, she'll find herself battling the odious mermaids, plus gibbering goblins, tree-gnawing shadow wolves and various other spooky beasties at every turn, (not forgetting the villainous Cloote!) though she'll find some courageous creatures willing to help her too, particularly the hedgehogs, bless 'em. (I can't ever see a hedgehog in a comic without thinking of the rather amusing sequence with Timothy Hunter in the Baba Yaga's Hut in THE BOOKS OF MAGIC!)
As all-age yarns go, this hits the mark perfectly in terms of story-telling with just the right amount of scariness for little ones (just as Eric's previous work MADDY KETTLE: THE ADVENTURES OF THE THIMBLEWITCH did) balanced with the caring, courageous actions of the compassionate Bera, who's certainly a role model for all trolls and mini-humans out there.
What makes this really stand out in the rapidly burgeoning all-ages arena, though, is Eric's art. I see on the dust jacket he cites Arthur Rackham and Maurice Sendak as inspirations. With all the pointy teeth lining the mouths of goodies and baddies alike, the linework shading, and the ochre and umber palette, I can really see the Sendak influence, fantastic stuff. I think fans of HILDA would very much enjoy this big-hearted adventure and hopefully Bera will get a few more outings in the future as well!