Page 45 Review by Stephen
"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 don't 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 hadn't. 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 Nemas's 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 who's lost his spectacles, their friend the wizard Eloise who has a third eye and so vision, and good-hearted but blundering Count Julius who doesn't stand a chance on his own.
Then there's 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, it's a loquacious albino raven which was once rescued from its stronger sibling's 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 haven't told us what they are!"
And she won't.
"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? They'll 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 NEMO's 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.
It's all very black and white, with one side fighting the other. Or is it? Please read this review once again.