Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze, the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years, collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.
Now Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land. Without sunlight, clean water, or arable land, and with limited stockpiles of supplies, there will be war all across the Stillness: a battle royale of nations not for power or territory, but simply for the basic resources necessary to get through the long dark night. Essun does not care if the world falls apart around her. She’ll break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.
If there’s ever a book that combines phenomenal world building, poignant character development and characters, and untouchable commentary that spans systems of oppression, racism, power imbalances, and climate decline, it’s The Fifth Season. N.K. Jeminisin is a veritable powerhouse of a writer. Her prose is as tight and beautiful as her story is mesmerizing.
It’s gritty. It’s dark. But in terms of how well a fantasy can take something that is truly as dark as systematic oppression and slavery and adequately handle its complexities and nuances, that grittiness and darkness is every bit earned and used to its fullest potential. Parts of this book made me put it down, because for as unique and utterly alien the world of the Stillness is, it is so harrowingly real that it’s hard not to react viscerally when reading. This wasn’t to The Fifth Season’s detriment; I think the point was to react, and to react deeply.
In my quest to read more graphic novels, I was really excited to get my hands on Her Infernal Descent, a modernized retelling of the Divine Comedy. Unfortunately, my excitement for the novel started and ended with the premise.
Let’s get into it.
The Run Down
Her Infernal Descent follows mother and wife, Lynn, after the accidental deaths of her husband and children. Visited in the depths of depression by the spirit of William Blake—a call back to Dante’s visitation and guidance by the poet Virgil—Lynn descends through the layers of hell on a quest to retrieve her family’s souls. She encounters the prolific Judge K who turns out to be Franz Kafka, the great beast Cerberus with five heads instead of three, and the lord of hell himself along the way in her journey to bring her family back.
There’s something to say about a piece of literature that pulls every emotion out of you over the course of reading. I’ve only read a handful of books that have managed to do that for me, and when I came across this book earlier this year, I couldn’t believe that not only did this book just happen to exist in the same timeline that I did, but that it was the debut from a very talented author. The only thing that I regret is the fact that it’s taken me so long to get around to reviewing it, as well as sharing the amazing interview that I was able to snag with Dawn Adams Cole, the author.
Let’s talk about one of my favorite reads of the year, Drops of Cerulean, and see what Dawn Adams Cole had to say about it, her process, and what she hopes readers gain from her words.
Ever picked up a graphic novel that was as intriguing as it was confusing and left you sitting there like wtf?
Let’s talk about A Walk Through Hell, Volume #1
When two fellow agents go missing inside a Long Beach warehouse, Shaw and McGregor are sent to investigate. But what they find waiting is far from routine, as the local police have already discovered to their cost. Before the night is out, our heroes will encounter terror beyond their most appalling nightmares—in a place where the night may never end at all.
A Walk Through Hell Vol. 1
It’s hard to know where to start with this graphic novel, so I think I should start with the things A Walk Through Hell Volume 1 succeeded at:
Premise, Themes, and Characters
A Walk Through Hell as it is in its first volume follows two FBI agents along a dual-timeline of events, one beginning with the investigation of a series of grizzly child disappearances, the other being the disappearance of two fellow agents in a mysterious warehouse that turns out to be more than it appears. They end up trapped there as the story bounces back and forth between the investigation and their haunting and downright gory journey through the warehouse. A fever dream of confusion, paranoia, and suspicion follows them. Is the warehouse and its horrific contents even a real place? Are they dead? Being punished?
Shaw and McGregor certainly don’t know, and by the end of volume one, neither will you.
It’s cop thriller meets psychological horror in a melding of themes that would butter any horror/thriller fan’s biscuit, converging in a weird, twisted plot line that reveals a monumental secret and is loaded with gore, time-relevant political and social commentary, and the lingering question over whether or not the best intentions justify horrific means.
Themes & Characters:
Throughout A Walk Through Hell, I thought the characters fit really well into these elements, particularly the two main agents Shaw and McGregor who end up being interesting ideological foils to each other. Shaw, who is still hung up by their previous case and on a steady roll to burning out while being fairly done with everything going on around them. Then there’s McGregor, who is more idealistic if not acidicaly aware of the current social climate that has himself (a gay man) and other marginalized people in the shitter as far as social standing goes. I liked McGregor and Shaw as a team; it plays up the old-hat, new blood dynamic that a lot of cop dramas go for, with a fresh take on it. While McGregor and Shaw certainly are meant to represent certain archetypes, I enjoyed the depth they were given and they bring out each other’s best and worst traits, playing up each other nicely.
Side by side the jarring investigation Shaw and McGregor work through is relevant sociopolitical commentary: women in male-dominated fields, gay men in those same fields, racism and the rise of fascism in a supposed democratic nation, are among the day-to-day hell hurdles that Shaw and McGregor have to deal with in addition to the actual hell they experience in the warehouse, and like any good horror/thriller, I felt the nods to bigger themes outside of gratuitous gore was a plus.
Where it all Falls Apart
Where A Walk Through Hell has an arguably interesting premise, compelling characters, and (very) pretty artwork, this first volume as a whole was all over the place. When reading a thriller, particularly one based in a police/FBI investigative atmosphere, there’s going to be questions unanswered, confusion, etc. It’s a part of the genre. The problem with A Walk Through Hell is by having two intertwined plot lines relevant to each other, writing needs to be tight and it was sloppy at best, which did not help for the cohesion of plot at all. At times this dual-timeline telling felt gimmicky at the detriment to fully enjoying the story.
Furthermore, its themes, in theory, are great but lack in execution. The presence of conversations about how McGregor feels about racism, for example, is appreciated, but ham-fisted as if to say ‘look, this story will have politics. Look at all the politics. Did I mention politics?’ Showing v. telling, etc., etc. For a graphic novel, I expect to be shown more than I am told, and I’m fully invested in the idea that the backdrop of the sociopolitical themes of A Walk Through Hell could have been smoothed out to feel like they actually belonged in the story as opposed to an afterthought or something sprinkled on top to make it a little more intriguing or patronizingly appealing to readers who are invested in sociopolitical issues outside of fiction.
A Walk Through Hell has promise, I’ll give it that. Despite the messiness of the writing in this first volume, I want to know what happens in subsequent volumes, which I think is a success to say that I’m still intrigued even if mildly put off by how disorganized the actual method of storytelling was.
Big thank you to NetGalley & Diamond Book Distributors for a copy of A Walk Through Hell Vol. 1
A Walk Through Hell is for you if: you’re into cop drama/thrillers with a heavy hit of horror, enjoy gore, like political commentary in your horror/thriller, want to be held on tenterhooks while you read, and eat up psychological foolery.
Warnings for this Volume: Gore, physical and sexual violence.
My idea of poetry
stems largely from high school English class, sloughing through sonnets and
unpleasantly dense prose. When I picked up Sparks of Phoenix it was in an
exercise to see if I could break the preconception that required reading had
instilled in me about poetry, poets, and what a person could take away from a
collection of poetry.
I was not
Let’s take a look at Sparks of Phoenix, by Najwa Zebian.