Page 45 Review by Stephen
Collects The King Of Birds, The Water Spirit and Tanya Of The Lake into one complete story.
The King Of Birds:
"Now then, best beloved, I will tell you an amazing tale: The King Of Birds.
"It all started with an apple.
"No ordinary apple, but a golden apple that grew on a magic tree in the garden of a warrior princess...
"Anyone who ate a golden apple would become young and mighty again."
Ooh, that sounds fab - I'll take two!
It's a beautiful opening to a beautiful book, o'er-brimming with opulence and mesmerising from cover to cover.
Its narrator is Gamayun, a magical, human-faced bird from Slavic mythology, whose blue face, golden tresses and wide, glowing eyes emerge theatrically from behind fanned, feathered wings, all with more than a hint of the Egyptian.
Almost immediately a knight on his steed gallops over the roofed walls and steals an armful of the ripe, restorative fruit in order to cure his ailing father. But Gamayun is a tease, for she will not reveal what happens next; not of the knight and his father, at least.
No, it is the apple which was dropped which proves so pivotal. It's one small accident with collateral consequences whose wide-spanning repercussions are enormous.
For, where once was harmony throughout the realms of the birds and the beasts there will be soon be a battle and blood loss, all because one small bird and one tiny beast break their firm friendship over this fallen treasure. Everything, they shared until now: every morsel of scavenged food. But the mouse is too taken by this golden apple to care, whips it away for herself, and is discovered! The sparrow is aggrieved and flies far south, thousands and thousands of miles, to the kingdom of animals in search of justice. Had the Lion King only considered the complaint, then that might have been the end of it (yet, admittedly, the end of the mouse), but no! And so the ripples of cause and effect continue to emanate as the bird seeks restitution and revenge from the Bird King not only for the mouse's misdemeanour, but now for the King of Beasts' haughty snub.
And this, best beloved, is but the beginning of a tale that will take you over vast oceans to three sequestered citadels housing great treasure and, within each, a royal relative. It will transform the fortunes of one lowly merchant who finds within him the compassion to forego harming his natural enemies and prey and, if only he can keep his promises, he will reap rewards for his generosity - as well as a fright for an earlier slight.
I promise you the unpredictable.
Where there are temptations they are generally given into - just look at the mouse and the sparrow! - and when dire warnings are issued you know that almost always they will be disobeyed. But don't be so sure. Retaliations will be other than what you expect. Anything could happen. So much of it will!
Always remember not just your manners but, forever more importantly, good will and gratitude!
Well, as you've probably gathered by now, this is all a bit gorgeous. It's one of the most luxurious graphic novels I've ever laid eyes on. The colours don't simply glow, in Africa they radiate heat. While on the wing, you can feel the cool sea breezes that help keep the eagle aloft.
The initial battle is ferocious, full of sharp edges from the lion king's crown of sharpened bones to the talons that scatter them. The eagle's mighty wings are whipped with colour, slashes of it fanned out in feathers: green, blue and black on fire-burning brown. It's all teeth and beak, while all-seeing Gamayun stares you straight in the eye: all because of an apple.
Even more majestic is the first of the three citadels, rising from the deepest blue sea like a gigantic, earthen eyrie. Its copper colour is complemented by clouds billowing above the horizon while the ocean is reflected in the eagle king's wings, just as it reflects the brighter blue sky up above. This is exactly the sort of spectacle of monumental, fantastical antiquity which has lit my imagination since first encountering the films of Ray Harryhausen. Even Gamayun cannot help but gaze in wonder, turning her head to direct your own eyes to its apex, its external "throne".
And this, best beloved, is still just the beginning!
No, really it is. Even this graphic novel is just the beginning, a first instalment to whet your appetite for what is to come. I did warn you that Gamayun is a tease. Over and again she promises to pick a thread up later - and she will, but not yet. No single tale is completed: not the thief's nor the merchant's; not the King of the Beasts' nor the King of the Birds' - although the eagle may believe that his is.
Oh, you will be thoroughly dangled! But you will relish every second!
What is up for discussion here? Loyalty, harmony, generosity; patience and priorities; retribution, to be sure, and the real risks of war. Gratitude is always a good thing.
But, best beloved, I will keep you no longer, for I see that you are eager to begin. So I only add this: make sure you keep turning the pages right unto the very end, and remember that blue-skinned is beautiful. Hmmmm....
The Water Spirit:
Ah, best beloveds, now sit yourselves down!
I see you've returned to learn what became of the humble merchant who found and rescued a wounded eagle, then nursed it back to health. It transpired that this mighty raptor was none other than the King of the Birds, a blue-skinned being with three regal sisters, one of whom rewarded her brother's saviour with her most prized possession, a heavy, gleaming gold chest.
Having soaked up the spectacle of three stunning palaces, our lowly merchant now wends his way home, for he has been gone from the wife whom he loves with all his heart for almost a year, and he is desperate to see her once more. Alas, even as he draws near - to within but a few days' walk of his house - the foulest of weather descends: snow, icy rain and hailstones as big as his fist. And he does have two very big fists.
With nowhere to shelter, he opens the treasure chest, perhaps seeking to snuggle up inside, even though the King of the Birds commanded that it be left locked until the merchant was safely home. But that's the thing with any such strictures: they're begging to be broken, aren't they?
Well, wonders of wonders, my best beloveds, for the merchant will not have to snuggle!
Instead the casket transforms itself into a vast, golden palace. Structured for maximum strength, it's a little bit Soviet, but with windows that shimmer with banded ocean-blue, sea green and salmon pink, as if aspects of another dimension. Indeed, it proves even bigger on the inside than on the outside, and surprisingly homely, with a feast laid out and candles all welcomingly lit. Wine is poured as if by an invisible servant and, after dessert plucked from a bowl of fruit, a candlestick hovers then shows the traveller to bed. A four-poster bed! And, oh, what a glorious view!
The winter weather has blown over to reveal the most tranquil of lakes, a crescent moon's reflection streaming over the still, midnight blue waters. The merchant does not recall a lake in this region, but no matter. He bites into the rosy-red apple he'd saved for later and pfft - there's a worm wriggling inside - so he tosses the apple out of the window and PLOP into the water below.
"A foolish mistake," notes our narrator.
And so it seems, for there's something slumbering in the shadowy depths, about to be woken, and about to take umbrage at our merchant's distinct lack of manners and complete disregard for Local Authority Planning Permission. (Article 11 Notice, if you don't own all the site).
Still, one lucky fish gets a free worm-supper.
GAMAYUN TAKES VOL 1: THE KING OF THE BIRDS began with an apple at its core too. They're so often the seed of a story. Ask Eve!
I urge you to get a gander at that, for it dealt with the premise and artwork in depth, whereas I am on holiday - can you tell?
We are far from done in this second instalment, for even more potential tales are opened up with promises to be told, and there are more oaths exchanged with the alarming repercussions. Top tip: never shake hands on an agreement without knowing what you're agreeing to; never make a deal without knowing its details. If you've been away from home for nearly a year, there's quite a good chance that there have been changes. Hopefully the bed linen, for one.
If you relished David B's HASIB & THE QUEEN OF SERPENTS, then I recommend this wholeheartedly, with only the caveat that David B delivered an entire epic, each of whose threads, however digressive, was woven together to form a complete tapestry. Here we conclude with an even more intriguing, whiplash, OMG cliff-hanger than book one!
It's equally luxurious, though. The treasure-chest transmogrification aside, I spent an entire hour staring at a single image of the lake when revisited at first light, marvelling at the flatness of its waters. They're the flattest thing in the world, are lakes - liquid does find its own level - and it's a very clever artist who can render such a sheer surface in perfect contrast to the vertical thrust of that which emerges from, in front or behind it.
I also liked the different visual treatments of what we are witnessing and what we are listening to. Golden-tressed Gamayun appears in occasional asides, either addressing us directly or commenting on what she has just watched replayed herself, glancing in the panels' direction. Gamayun is all sleek and smooth; what we watch has a certain rugged texture to it.
"I wish I could help you somehow, poor boy," mourns the invisible golden palace's inhabitant.
Says Gamayun, "Oh, darling, you will".
Finally, like HASIB & THE QUEEN OF SERPENTS, this mythological excursion also offers broken-promise offenders the opportunity of redemption - second chances, if you will - although there appears to be a far greater price to be paid.
"Nine years has passed joyfully, but even the longest day must have an end."
Oh dear. The holiday's over. I'm being sent back to boarding school, aren't I?