Page 45 Review by Stephen
First two GEIS h/cs in a single, slightly odd s/c with a thin, French-flapped dustjacket. Very weird design work.
"Don't you understand? I have no choice."
I understand perfectly; you always have a choice.
Whenever I've heard "I have no choice" it's meant, "I don't fancy the other options I've so far considered, so I'm completely abnegating responsibility for what I'm about to do." Please file with "I'm just following orders".
Admittedly on the surface the fifty souls sent on a mission here appear to have had their options substantially limited but not curtailed, for where there's a will, there's a way.
Before we begin, this is brilliant. Its beauty we'll come to anon, but I want you to know from the start that this is enthralling and truly startling in places, with curses far more cunning in their detail and execution than you might initially suspect. Underneath the spot-varnish cover we are forewarned thus:
"Geis, pronounced gesh, is a Gaelic word for a taboo or curse. When a geis is placed upon you, it is like a spell that cannot be broken and certain rules must be obeyed. You might be prohibited from calling upon the aid of wolves, for example, or from breaking into someone's kitchen. If you ignore or break a geis, the consequences are dire.
"But a geis is always broken.
"As soon as it is spoken or written, your fate is set."
The matriarch Matarka is dead.
She lies in state in her ceremonial robes on a bed in the centre of a cloister's courtyard. Around her sit fifty citizens, most of whom seem downright grumpy that they've been woken from their beds. The great chief Matarka named no heir but instead proclaimed that there would be contest to select her successor.
"The rich, the strong, the wise, the powerful, many gave their names in the hope of being chosen.
"But when the night came fifty souls were summoned."
An agreement is being sent round to be signed and a brief squabble breaks out over power, but it's silenced by the gurgling of Matarka before an ectoplasmic apparition issues from her mouth to settle in a vessel, a body of an old woman sat slouched at the foot of the bed.
"I am Niope, the sorceress. Prepare yourselves for I have come to test you.
"A good chief should know the land. All the land. Like seed on the wind I scatter you.
"Find your way back to me before the light of the next dawn touches the castle door... or no chief will you be!"
That's it: that's all they are told before being conjured into the air and summarily dispatched. It's possible that she may have omitted one or two salient items of interest, as at least a couple of the contestants will later find out. The others will remain oblivious to the consequences but I've chosen what I've written and quoted here carefully, for it's not just God who's in the details.
As we focus on a dozen or so individuals attempting to master their environment to make their way back after being dumped in a cave, between columns of rocks, in a wood and by quicksand or being thrust through a kitchen window, some prove more resourceful than others while others have certain skills which may afford them some desperately needed insight. We also discover that the Kite Lord's daughter never entered her name into the contest, but when she attempts to withdraw, she discovers she can't. None of them are going to be able to walk away and return to the lives they once knew, and it becomes increasingly clear that these challenges will be tests not just of capability, but of character too.
That's the tip of the proverbial iceberg - with carefully concealed depths - for this is the first in a trilogy in which you will begin to glean the differences between Life Magic and Death Magic and their tightly knit relationship, just as it is with Life and Death itself.
There are some spectacular skies on offer at all times of the morning, noon and night. Not least of these is the early shepherd's warning behind the monumental composite of a castle whose cloisters we first looked down upon. An unfeasibly large, fantastical and positively Tolkien-esque fortress surrounded by minarets sits atop the base of an already gigantic, heavens-headed gothic cathedral, its architectural details bathed in brown shadow as the dawn behind it ignites in flaming reds, oranges, yellows and purples while the cold, spectral-blue shades of the challengers are whisked round and around then away.
A little later we'll catch another glimpse of this citadel from further afield, surrounded by substantial Tudor terraced houses and mansions whose warped walls will loom over a protagonist or two as improvisations are attempted. There the softer, sandy colours are dry-brushed against bright white clouds which themselves drift idly across the vastness of a pale green sky.
Then there are midnight flourishes during an unusually direct confrontation between two of the protagonists lest one learn the secrets of the other then disseminate that knowledge. A freezing, miasmatic mist rises like a monochromatic (but little less spectacular) version of the Aurora Borealis partially occluding a star-strewn, nocturnal heaven.
Atmosphere is all, and you won't find it any less thrilling in a lamp-lit library as ancient Osha attempts to furnish the Kite Lord's daughter with knowledge only to find that time has taken its toll and knowledge must be carefully kept alive and preserved... lest it be eaten away.
School library folks, this is equally fine for your teens or early teens section. It's going to be another of those graphic novels snapped up by all ages for its wide-eyes wonder and harsh revelations.
Geis Book II: A Game Without Rules
This is magic.
This is life.
It is the will that shapes the world.
Remember this also:
There can be no magic without life.
To make magic, life must be given or it must be taken.
Student of magic, your first question is this:
How much will you take?
How much will you give?
For something so dark, there is so much bright light and the most radiant of colours to match!
Also life-lessons we would all do so well to learn: give what you can and take only your time. Consider this: what if they were me?
Diabolically ingenious and so cleverly constructed, every element here dovetails precisely, be it the multiple, intense, concurrent action sequences of both fight and flight or the games and the geis itself, all of which most assuredly have rules if only our remaining competitors could perceive then strive to understand them. You, the reader, will have to work out what they are too, so I will merely allude!
What are those who have reached the supposed sanctuary of the castle competing for? The kingdom itself. What is at stake? Their very lives.
Unfortunately they dont know that. Only young Lady Io and the duplicitous Nemas have discovered this, and they have been cursed into silence.
"Why don't you just kill us now and have done with it?"
"I cannot. The Geis binds us all alike. You are bound to be tried and I am bound to test you. This bond cannot be broken."
This is true. The sorceress Niope may not interfere directly. But what if those tests were to include individual temptation?
In GEIS BOOK 1: A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH we saw the greedy and the opportunistic as well as those who thought they could bring justice all sign themselves up to compete for the kingdom after their matriarch passed away. But from her corpse materialised the sorceress Niope, old and haggard and blue, who issued their first challenge: to reach the castle before sunrise. Some gave up and went home; they did not live long to regret it.
Lady Io never signed up but found herself embroiled all the same. She assumed that her wealthy parents entered her. They hadnt. In her efforts to save others she has been burned by the life-giving sun, then poisoned by Nemas. Still she saved his life, but in doing so she may well have condemned everyone else to death.
GEIS BOOK 1 was so phenomenal that we made it Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month and has sold in droves to adults and Young Adults alike, but Book 2 is on another level entirely, forty pages longer, even more beautiful, and far more complex as the stakes and so struggles are ramped up dramatically in direct confrontations.
We begin with a telling prologue from Nemass youth in which his identical twin Caliphas invented an innocent, imaginary game to play, along with its goals, its rules and its risks. Their elder brother Toras bullied his way in, threatening to beat Nemas to death with brute strength. Now Toras is a general, Caliphas an architect and Nemas has a chip on his shoulder the size of a wooden stake.
Also key in this second of three instalments are Nelson the doctor, little Artur the bookkeeper whos lost his spectacles, their friend the wizard Eloise who has a third eye and so vision, and good-hearted but blundering Count Julius who doesnt stand a chance on his own.
Then theres cunning advocate Malmo and his bitter old tutor Tomas who turn the law into a game of recrimination in order to settle old scores. As to Law itself, its a loquacious albino raven which was once rescued from its stronger siblings attempts to push it out of their nest by The Judge who as a girl learned a prime lesson there and then:
Law... It must be built upon a single question. It must ask, what if it was me?
What if I was weak? What if I was strong?
What if I were the one? What if I were the other.
The law is no game.
The law is all that stands between us...
And the dominion of monsters.
Are you intrigued? It is time for the second challenge to begin!
I divide you into two.
Play the game until one side alone remains.
Niope dips her now far healthier hand to the throne-room floor and in a flash the castle is cleaved clean in two: one side is white, one side is black.
The contestants / combatants are also cleaved in two, thrown flat on their backs from the monochromatic chasm, their colourful clothing instantly bleached or blackened. Unlike upon a chessboard, however, her black pieces lie on white ground, her white ones on black. Nothing I type here is random.
Keep to the rules at all times or you will be removed from the contest.
What are the rules?
You havent told us what they are!
And she wont.
I give each of you two gifts. Do with them what you will.
Each receives a large coin which they then choose to wear as medallions (engraved on one is Take; on the other side Give) and a staff or perhaps stick according to colour: chalk for white, charcoal for black. Beneath their very feet they find ancient writing which the learned Judge alone can translate:
As it is written, so shall it be.
Now, what do you think that implies? Theyll have to figure it out for themselves.
The sequential-art storytelling is exceptional, not least because Deacon refuses to hold your hot, sticky hands with explicatory words, but instead successfully supplies you and the contestants with all the clues you will need within the art or they in their environs. I cannot begin to tell you how much respect such narrative confidence commands in me. The instant effect of what is hidden within one panel is essential for what follows but it resolutely remains un-signposted so, in the spirit of which, somewhere within this review, I have supplied a page of interior art without comment just as Deacon does. Boy, is it ever so clever!
While we are reaching for superlatives, several sequences struck me as modern manifestations of LITTLE NEMOs Winsor McCay, not least the page I refer to above but also its equally magical tip-toe through the proverbial, bell-ringing tulips. Or in this case, giant mushrooms.
Whatever you do, stay in the contest! screams Lady Io, and I am in awe of her altruism.
As to the central challenge, our bewildered, embattled ones must each make their own up games and write their own rules. Those rules will require quick wit and attention to detail: the very letter of the law, you might say.
The pen may prove mightier than the sword; although sometimes the former can also be utilised as the latter.
Its all very black and white, with one side fighting the other. Or is it? Please read this review once again.