Page 45 Review by Stephen
Poika and Sisu sit side-by-side under the shelter of two lichen-rich boulders which lean against each other in mutual support. As the rain pours from the grey heavens above, eroding visibility of the lush foliage further downstream, they watch ripples on the river expand right in front of them.
"I like this place.
"I come here when I want to be quiet. Watching the water settles my thoughts.
"Tutta told me you could talk... Can you, Sisu?
And if she could, what would she say?
Sisu has been welcomed by Poika's people after being rescued from a tribe already at odds with the Kansa, but which has since been driven self-destructively mad by their vicious leader's obsession with a mirror-stone. During her time in captivity something occurred which so traumatised Sisu that she hasn't spoken since. Unfortunately not all of the Kansa are as kind as Poika, and her presence will cause ramifications because - just as the sound of rain on water still soothes the soul - in so many ways we haven't changed at all in 10,000 years.
Set in the unspoiled wilds on the eastern shores of Stone Age Britain, MEZOLITH VOL 1 was a book of beauty that made my eyes glow and heart sing as a boy called Poika took his first tentative steps towards becoming a man.
"It's an unforgiving life where wounds are deep, infection rife, the winters harsh and tribal territories fiercely enforced; but it's also one rich in folklore, and although the lad's courage far outstrips the experience his elders will need to teach him - about hunting, survival and the balance of things - his affinity for nature, tenacity and curiosity will undoubtedly prove the making of him."
And so it did. I also remarked that Poika grew visibly and physically during the course of the book, but here it is even more evident, particularly in panels during which he's being courted by Kiva, casually to begin with but then more directly. It unsettles, even embarrasses Poika who doesn't consider himself ready yet but his arms and abdomen say otherwise.
Now is the time that pairing will come into play, and that will be reflected in one particularly instructive tale to young women being prepared ceremonially for their first dance.
"Some of you might find a husband.
"You giggle, but you might - though he cannot be an Owl man. They've broken their bonds with all of us. They and their kind are not welcome here.
"Taking the hands of a man is for companionship and helping each other - understand how the left hand works with the right hand.
"This paint and prettiness is all very well, but in truth, how you get on with a man depends on a meeting of spirits and how you can help each other as mates..."
The story she spins is of two sisters who learned nothing of use to themselves or their tribe, relying instead on their good looks while disdaining others', dismissing and demeaning potential mates whom they nick-name according to what they considered physical defects. Well, they've a fantastical journey ahead and hard lessons to learn. Physical differences will be much in evidence in MEZOLITH VOLUME 2. Haggarty's ability to link certain strands and sustain specific themes is as impressive as his storytelling skills for which he is legendary, live.
It's the oral tradition of passing down stories from one generation to the next which lies at the heart of both books. Since knowledge came so often at a terrible cost and survival depended upon it, preserving as much as possible in the form of fables was essential.
It should be noted that they are Young Adult books but largely bought by adults for adults. Brockbank is very much an artist's artist and since his film credits range from Harry Potter to Maleficent you'll be unsurprised to learn that his luminous artwork is a joy. In the first book there were the five ebony-eyed sisters with their snow-white swan feathers draped over their silk-smooth, cream-coloured bodies, an early, expertly choreographed hunt for fresh meat which went awry, and woodland climbs in the heat of the day.
Here there's a bear and oh so many bees, and a spectacular fishing or rather fish-driving sequence using judiciously placed mesh tunnels crafted from flexible but durable inner bark. You'll yearn for such clean waters and fresh, unspoiled landscapes lit by the sun but seen from the dappled shade as smoke from the camp fires drifts up in front of canopies which themselves rise towards of a misted mountain and the birds up above.
Brockbank is equally adept at the otherworldly - glistening ebony eyes being a favourite of his - and there's no small element of horror in both volumes.
As well as traditions, MEZOLITH is also a book about family - the generations these practices are passed down through. Now, even as Poika is beginning to take an increasingly active role within the tribe, so his father Isa must reluctantly leave his hunting days behind. He's already been shown by much older Konkari that age does not necessarily bring with it frailty or being unable to contribute (as we have seen, being useful to others is of paramount importance to this society) and Isa has already had to apologise once! But there's a particularly moving scene - beautifully written and artfully depicted in semi-silhouette against the glare of a late afternoon sun as if seen through honeycomb - during which Isa is visited by his dead wife in a dream call, reassuring that he has done well, that his story is far from over, and that he is strong and handsome and very much loved.