Page 45 Review by Stephen
Luxurious hardcover with gold-foil finishes from the creator of EPILEPTIIC.
If you love your epic mythological journeys like THE KING OF THE BIRDS, this will fill your cup right to its brim, and it comes with the same, intricate story baton-passing, for this is all about unexpected encounters in which one revelation leads to another, one complication leads to several more, and there are prices to be paid for love, treachery, deceit, ingratitude, servitude and - what else would you expect? - the dismissal of warnings and the breaking of promises, taboos.
Not only that but, blissfully, I can promise you that however far the meandering narrative, full of digressions, takes us from its initial thread, its path is circular, you will return whence you came, and every single element will be resolved. Even more satisfyingly, answers which could not and should not have been provided during the diversions are provided later on, and antagonists who appear within them will reappear most unexpectedly but quite, quite, brilliantly during the final furlong to fuck up things further, but not forever.
Why is it so circuitous? This is taken from 'The Thousand And One Nights' in which the narrator is essentially telling stories to postpone her execution. It's one long delaying tactic. For a very cool riff on that, please see Isabel Greenberg's wit-ridden, glorious graphic novel THE ONE HUNDRED NIGHTS OF HERO.
It begins simply enough with Hâsib, who isn't half as wise or well versed in the ways of the world as his departed dad, an ancient sage called Daniel. Hâsib's mother is persuaded to buy him an axe and a donkey so he can join three woodcutters in a forest and learn this new craft. But when they discover a well of honey in a cave, Daniel is abandoned at the bottom on it while his greedy companions make more money from the honey than they'd ever dreamed. They tell his mother that Hâsib was eaten, but they do continue to provide for her from their ill-gained goods.
Well, seemingly trapped at the bottom of the now-empty well beneath the cave, Daniel encounters a talking scorpion - the very constellation of Scorpius in the sky, made flesh, blood and stingy bit! - and so realises that there must be another way out. He claws back rubble to find himself in a chamber with an underground lake at the centre of which is a bed on an island. Lying down, he soon finds himself in the company of the Queen of the Serpents. It's then that the succession of stories truly begins, from Kabul to Cairo, before they return full circle, then onwards!
You are in for an orgy of opulent spectacle, for David B makes the visual most of every literary opportunity afforded him, and oh the opportunities! There's an aviary of every bird imaginable in King Solomon's castle, a mountain-top tree full of faces, and a constellation of stars is illuminated at its most magnificent. Talking plants communicate in ever such clever picture-clues, a coffin-maker's enterprise is given a right medieval and morbid rendition, while a battle between apes and djinns is Mesoamerican in nature, coiling round then into the page like a snake.
Demons await in the woods as if to corrupt the woodcutters, a river doesn't just rage and roar but actually exclaims, anything can happen then actually does and essentially this: it's like an artistic acid trip without any risk of flashbacks or prosecution.
As I've written of Jim Woodring's work: "It's mind-altering, yet legal!"
Here's an important component, however, which is easy to overlook: although grave personal betrayals occur, genuine contrition can be rewarded by forgiveness if it's backed up with restitution and remedial action, especially if unsolicited. By which I mean: you realise you've done wrong, you concede you've done wrong, you actively apologise and then set things right without being asked to in advance.
The reason this is vital in any morality tale is that it provides hope in its option for action: we all make mistakes, but believing that we are damned forever because of them doesn't exactly encourage a change of heart.
Or, as 'The Cock, The Mouse And The Little Red Hen' would contend: "It's never too late to mend".
Although sometimes it is.