Page 45 Review by Stephen
"Names are in short supply in this telling."
They are indeed, they are indeed.
Why do you imagine this would be so?
Ah, but that would be as telling as the telling of names and in this telling - in this marked departure of what you may think you know of the princess cursed to lie prone by the pricking of her thumb - everyone is in for a nasty surprise.
"The queen woke early that morning. "A week from today," she said aloud. "A week from today, I shall be married.""
She doesn't look very happy about it. Oh, that frowny face! Those heavy, dolorous eyes staring mournfully into the abyss of impending marital bliss
Even her ebony tresses hang lank if still lustrous as she sits up in bed. The day's dress awaits, presumably propped over a mannequin, but with its headless ruff splayed like a frilled-necked lizard's it looks like the ghost of a monarch beheaded. The reginal counterpane is embroidered with gold
Did I mention that this is illustrated prose?
Unlike Mattotti's thick-set illustrations to Gaiman's HANSEL & GRETEL which I can only describe as bucolic gothic, Chris Riddell's are so crisply delineated that one might suspect the deployment of Rotring. They too have much of the gothic about them - it is, after all in the nature of this narrative - but it's more neo-gothic, more late-Victorian fantasy. And then there's the gold, adorning the dwarves' candle-lit mining lamps, which comes to a crescendo of its own at the close.
? Ah, yes, the queen! I don't think it's her suitor that's at issue here. It's the finality of it all.
"It would be the end of her life, she decided, if life was a time of choices. In a week from now, she would have no choices. She would reign over her people. She would have children."
I think you will find that being reigned over limits your choices more than the reigning, but she does have a point about children. Most people choose to have children but when you're a queen and then married, well, the press won't let babies drop until you have.
Meanwhile three industrious, loyal dwarfs determined to find the finest silken cloth fit for their queen have bypassed the impassable mountain range separating the queen's kingdom from Dorimar by going underground. And I feel for them, I really do: from October to December Page 45's office / mail order salt mine is blocked from all passage by just such a mountain range made out of cardboard. Graphic novels don't materialise in our sort of quantities without a great many boxes being involved.
Once they've resurfaced in Dorimar the dwarfs find an inn filled to the brim with refugees fleeing the knock-on ill-effects of a curse in the heart of a castle. I think you know the drill: a princess has pricked her thumb on a spindle and, it / she being cursed by a wicked old witch, it's made her ever so woozy. Okay, she's totally conked out and flat on her back (so they say) but not so the roses which are positively virulent. They've writhed and risen right up the castle walls, carrying with them whichever brave souls have strived to get in - knights impaled on their thorns now reduced to armour-clad skeletons - and formed an impenetrable wall.
But the sleeping sickness is spreading at an alarming rate and it knows no mountain-range boundaries. The queen's own kingdom may be under threat! It's probably time for a quest.
Far, far longer than HANSEL & GRETEL - a quest takes time, after all - this doesn't actually feel quite so Gaiman-y. I couldn't discern the same level of portentousness that usually makes Gaiman read like A. A. Milne's Winnie The Pooh in which Almost Every Sentence sounds like it should Come With Capital Letters. I like that in Gaiman's prose.
It is, however, as ingenious as you'd expect - although I'd plump for "devious", actually.