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Fabien Vehlmann

Satania

Macabre. Unsettling. Gruesome.
I loved it.

My introduction when I reviewed Beautiful Darkness, also by Vehlmann and Kerascoët, had the above words and they prove true in this unique graphic novel too. At first glance, the story line seems to be simply a dark fairy tale- yet, it goes deeper than that.

The story begins with a cave exploration gone wrong. Spelunker Christopher has gone missing, and experienced guide and priest Father Monsore can not find him. Another recovery team sets out to find him that include’s Christopher’s younger sister Charlotte. Monsure tries to save this group too when poor planning on smug team leader Lavergne’s part traps them in the cave and a spring flood pushes them deeper into the caverns.

Once the six characters are established, we find out the real reason for Christopher’s exploration- he was writing a book to prove the existence of Hell by using Darwin’s theory of evolution. Lavergne, a believer of Christopher’s theories, expounds further by explaining that perhaps Neanderthals moved into the cave’s depths and evolved to combat the heat, over thousands of years, to resemble demons of folklore.

Soon time begins to bend, and hallucinations occur for some of the team, so it’s hard to know if what they are experiencing or seeing is true. Some of the team disappear or go crazy and only three remain- Father Monsore, Charlotte and Lavergne. The three find some clues that Christopher might still be alive and they push deeper finding grotesque creatures and other-worldly landscapes. They encounter some demon looking beasts, and one seems to take a liking to Charlotte. I will not spoil the end of what happens to everyone in the land of Satania, but the last few pages were perfectly disturbing.

The illustrations are lush and detailed with special attention to the subterranean landscapes.  The world created is strange and lovely, with vivid coloring to help bring each part of Satania to life.  The art is credited to Kerascoët, which is actually a pseudonym for the husband and wife team of Marie Pommepuy and Sébastien Cosset. These two have also worked with the writer Hubert to create the book Beauty, that Kathleen reviewed. While their illustrations may seem suited for children’s tales, read further in and you will see why all their books are only meant for mature audiences.

If you like your fairy tales dark, pick up this book and the others by Kerascoët, to experience thought provoking, haunting and allegorical tales.

-Nancy

Vehlmann, Fabien & Kerascoët. Satania. 2017.

Beautiful Darkness

Macabre.
Unsettling.
Gruesome.
I loved it.

This seemingly sweet graphic novel starts out with a lovely young woman having tea with a prince, and it is going splendidly well, that is until great globs of red stuff starts falling on them. As everyone runs for safety, the view shifts away for a long shot, and you see little creatures pouring out of the orifices of a dead girl. What?!

Aurora takes charge and finds food and shelter for all the little doll like creatures, and tries to befriend the woodland animals. They all work together and it seems like utopia (well, except for the decomposing human girl in the woods) for awhile. But all that shines is not gold. Soon the veneer of politeness starts to wear off, and what at first seemed like a fantasy story slips towards horror.

Another doll Zelie emerges as a leader, with many catering to her every cruel whim. Zelie’s manipulations lead to many of the tiny beings turning on one another to stay in her favor and some accepting their deaths willingly. Even Aurora falls prey to her for a bit, turning against her friend the mouse, when in actuality she is upset on how she fell for Zelie’s deceit.

Only a few besides Aurora survive outside Zelie’s influence- Jane, who is independent and moves away, and an unstable doll who hides in the skull of the girl eating maggots and slipping into insanity. Aurora eventually follows Jane to a mysterious woodcutter’s cottage, whom you will wonder about- what is his connection to the dead girl? When Zelie and her dwindling entourage arrive at the cottage, Aurora then makes a radical decision.

Allegories abound in this book- make of it what you will. Of this I am certain, you will leaf through it several times, reading even deeper meaning into the story each time you look carefully at the watercolor panels. Enjoy….

-Nancy

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