Monday 22 February 2016

ReadItDaddy's YA Review Roundup - "Porcelain - A Gothic Fairy Tale" by Benjamin Read and Chris Wildgoose (Improper Books)

We're taking a dip into YA waters with a couple of fantastic graphic novels from Improper Books.

Just in case you've no idea who Improper Books are, they're the publishers of some of the most original and stunning comics, graphic novels and children's books on the planet. We've previously reviewed the awesome "Night Post" by Benjamin Read and Laura Trinder, and this talented collective have been busily working away on new titles to dazzle your socks off.

"Porcelain - A Gothic Fairy Tale" is the first of Improper Books' YA titles I've taken a look at, and I had to let Charlotte sit this one out as it's really not suitable for children. However, if you've got a surly teen sitting at home who rather likes graphic novels, they're in for a bit of a treat.

"Porcelain" book 1 introduces Child, a scruffy street urchin who hangs around with a collective of miscreants under the control of a bit of an artful dodger wannabe.

"Child" is sent over the wall of a mysterious old house to see if she can nab anything valuable. Tales tell that folk who trespass in the garden are never seen again, and Child soon discovers why...

Just before she's dismembered by two mysterious beasts, a man appears and chastises her for trespassing in his garden. Using her street-smarts and charm, Child manages to convince the kindly old man that she's lost and hungry, and before long begins a strange friendship as "Child" and "Uncle" bond over their shared loneliness.

The kindly old man isn't a wizard, as first suspected, but an expert alchemist, able to bring porcelain forms to life through dark magic.

Child is like the daughter he and his late wife never had, and soon Uncle begins to share his secrets and creations with Child, even instructing her on the art of animating these porcelain automata herself - with one house rule laid down at the outset. Child is forbidden to enter one locked room in the house.

Secrets never stay secret for very long, and curious children can't keep a promise. Child soon discovers Uncle's powers are only part of what makes the mysterious china models move...

This first book in an eventual 5-book series (I've also read Book 2 - Bone China - which I'll be bringing to you as another YA review very soon) was gripping from start to finish. Essences of Phillip Pullman's "Dark Materials" and a goodly dose of Dickensian quirkiness mask an obsidian black heart, and a darkly delicious tale of two distinctly different characters somehow drawn together by their own personal curiosities and fallibilities. Child with her quest to be someone better, someone whose voice can be heard and recognised, and Uncle with his thirst for necromantic knowledge and a deep-seated need to replace his long lost loved ones with companions that will last forever.

As I mentioned, "Porcelain" isn't suitable for children but it's hugely intelligently written, with the sort of setting I just find it impossible to resist with its mixture of storytelling magic and steampunk overtones lifting it to lofty heights.

Brilliant writing as ever from Benjamin Read, with truly stunning art from Chris Wildgoose, we told you a while back that Improper Books were a publisher to keep a very beady eye on and we weren't wrong...!

"Porcelain: A Gothic fairy Tale" is available now from Improper Books (in printed and digital formats)