evadne_noel: A man and the cresent moon in a rowboat (Bizenghast by M. Alice Legrow)
Warnings: I’ve known the author for upwards of 10 years. I am in no way an unbiased reviewer.

Bizenghast by M. Alice Legrow is the story of Dinah Wherever, whose parents are very, very dead. She is sent to live with her aunt in the shore town of Bizenghast, MA, which is isolated, rundown and frankly the last place on earth one should send a recently traumatized young person. To make matters worse, Dinah is already quite crazy. She alternately lies morosely in bed, or throws fits, or is harassed by ghosts no one else ever sees. The only one who can calm her at all is her friend Vincent, who occasionally sneaks her out of her house.

One evening, while hurrying home, Dinah and Vincent’s usual path through the woods is cut off by a haphazardly dropped pile of junk that had not been there earlier. While attempting to pick their way back to the path, the young pair stumble across an abandoned graveyard and the Sunken Mausoleum. Vincent convinces Dinah to enter the Mausoleum, where they find a strange plaque and a key that Dinah unfortunately touches. It is then that they meet the monster Bali-Lali, and rather wish they hadn’t.

It turns out that by touching the key, Dinah has entered into a contract with the Mausoleum. She must come back every night to set free sleeping ghosts who are not in the best of moods. Otherwise she will die, or quite possibly worse.

That’s just the first chapter setup. The rest of the book is taken up by Dinah and Vincent’s visits to ghosts’ dreams and their attempts to set the ghosts free. This part of the first book feels very sequential, like episodes of television show. Go to the dreams of the first ghost, discover a few clues, set her free. Go to the dreams of the second ghost, discover a few clues, set him free. Repeat. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that this is only the first book of three or four, so the entire book may be a set up to a larger plot.

It is not necessarily the storyline that distinguishes Bizenghast. The story’s art and atmosphere are very Gothic. And I mean that in the literary way. As in isolated places and protagonists, supernatural presences, and a penchant for melancholy, madness and violent emotions. The story is definitely a horror story. Lots of people dying in implied (and not so implied) horrible ways. There are several images that freak me out, for example, a young girl being garroted. It’s mostly the ideas that are disturbing, and their expression through character designs. I love the ghosts, some of whose bodies appear to be comprised of inanimate objects (see the cover). It’s a little weird at first, wondering why a girl has a birdcage for a torso, or dancers have keys stuck into their backs, but these are tormented ghosts. If you were them, you’d probably have a gruesome imagination too.

The art is frequently mentioned as one of the selling points of the novel. Most of the panel-to-panel art of the characters is fairly standard, but the title pages, the building architecture and small details in the backgrounds show a high art standard. I’m not too disappointed when there are beautiful things to look at. There are several statues that I would love to have small replicas of, Dinah’s outfits are intricate and stunning (especially if you’re a fan of the Gothic Lolita style), and the pictures of the ghosts passing on are absolutely gorgeous. Also, I have a thing for the way M. Alice draws mermaids.

The characters themselves are, well, developing. I’ve seen some complaints that Vincent seems more like the hero than Dinah because Dinah is weak and leaves most of the actual action to Vincent. I believe this is because Vincent comes to the audience fully formed as a strong character trying to look after Dinah. Dinah, as the lead character, has to have a character arc. She starts off as weak and weepy, but even in the first book, I think the reader begins to see how Dinah will grow. The first few ghosts, Dinah either does nothing or is the distraction, but by the end, Dinah makes the decision to start acting for herself, rather than letting Vincent take care of her. I’ll have to see how Dinah develops, but this is only book one, and characters are not always interesting at the beginning.

My absolute favorite thing about this story, however, is the author’s sense of humor. It reminds me a great deal of my own (which is why, I suppose, she and I are still friends). M. Alice uses humor to balance out the macabre aspects of the story. Most of the book is serious, but the last chapter (for example) is mostly jokes and exposition. It also has my favorite character of the series, but I can’t tell you too much more because it’ll give things away. Regardless, it’s the dark sense of humor running through the book that keeps me interested. I am not a big fan of horror, so a straight, serious horror story would be low on my reading list.

The book ends with a few really pretty pictures of fanart, which I think is neat. It’s nice to devote a few bonus pages to fans…of something that has barely started. Ah, Internet! Creating fans before something is even released!

Ghosts. Riddles. Architecture. Madness. Random Acts of Violence. Fear. Death. Outfits. Jokes About the Electric Slide.

All things I love, and all things found in Bizenghast.


evadne_noel: A man and the cresent moon in a rowboat (Default)

March 2009

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