Harry Black is lost between the world of war and the land of myth in this illustrated novel that transports the tale of Orpheus to World War II–era London. Brothers Marcus and Julian Sedgwick team up to pen this haunting tale of another pair of brothers, caught between life and death in World War II. Harry Black, a conscientious objector, artist, and firefighter battling the blazes of German bombing in London in 1944, wakes in the hospital to news that his soldier brother, Ellis, has been killed. In the delirium of his wounded state, Harry’s mind begins to blur the distinctions between the reality of war-torn London, the fiction of his unpublished sci-fi novel, and the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Driven by visions of Ellis still alive and a sense of poetic inevitability, Harry sets off on a search for his brother that will lead him deep into the city’s Underworld. With otherworldly paintings by Alexis Deacon depicting Harry’s surreal descent further into the depths of hell, this eerily beautiful blend of prose, verse, and illustration delves into love, loyalty, and the unbreakable bonds of brotherhood as it builds to a fierce indictment of mechanized warfare.
Voyages in the Underworld of Orpheus BlackFeatured
After he meets with his brother to try to mend fences, he is traveling on a bus when bombs land, and he then wakes in the hospital. Once he gains consciousness, he learns that the pub in which he had met and left his brother was destroyed by the bombs, and there are believed to be no survivors. Harry is compelled to go there and see if he can learn the truth about his brother and save him- beginning an even more dangerous journey, accompanied by Orpheus Black who has joined with him and a younger girl whom he met in the hospital.
The book is told in three ways: journal entries from Harry’s perspective, poetry from the perspective of Orpheus Black, and artwork. The three combine to create something potentially more powerful than any of the three separately. Harry’s journey to save his brother seemingly takes him into the afterlife/underworld, and really captures the depth of brotherly love.
What I loved: The illustrations and poetry were really beautiful. The illustrations capture war and danger really well, and the poems have a great flow. The concept is also very interesting, and I enjoyed the theme of brotherly love. While there is some anti-war tones, there are also messages about why the war was necessary and the atrocities being committed; however, it would have been nice to get a little deeper into the debate, as it was difficult to go into much in this format/with the other main themes.
What left me wanting more: The book almost seemed too ambitious, and the end was a bit abrupt. It was difficult at times to join the three modes of storytelling together to get a complete picture. While some of this is explained by the ending documents, there are still a lot of things that were not very clear. This is more of a thought-provoking and mysterious book without really clear answers, and this will appeal to some readers.
While Orpheus is described and the mythology alluded to, it does help to google the story to get a full picture of what is going on and why this myth is being used (and once you do, this helps to understand the story better). As another small point, the dialogue was all described/written without quotations in the journal entries, which is probably more on point as to how it would be written, but it did make it a little harder to read.
Final verdict: For people who like mysterious books with magical realism type elements, this book will be a unique and engrossing read with images, text, and poems combining together to create an intriguing tale. While I think a little more length would have helped to flesh out the story further, the elements were each pretty well done and certainly keep the reader interested.