Review: Voyages in the Underworld of Orpheus Black

Voyages in the Underworld of Orpheus Black
By Marcus Sedgwick, Julian Sedgwick, and Alexis Deacon
Published August 13, 2019 by Walker Books US

Publisher’s summary:
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wounded state, Harry’s mind begins to blur the distinctions between the reality of war-torn London, the fiction of his unpublished sci-fi novel, and the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.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.

This lovely book is a sort of retelling of the legend of Orpheus set in London during World War II. Harry Black is a conscientious objector, and he’s doing his war service by Votagesputting out fires from the German bombs that fall on London every night. Because Harry isn’t fighting in the war, his father disowned him and his relationship with his brother Ellis is strained.

After a bombing raid, Harry is injured and hospitalized and his brother is apparently killed. In his concussed state, Harry is convinced that his brother is alive, so he escapes the hospital with a young girl named Anna in tow, and they begin a bizarre journey into the underworld of London.

The journey is weird and wonderful and moving. Orpheus himself is a character in the book commenting on the action. The story is told partly in verse. The book has beautiful and slightly creepy illustrations by Alexis Deacon, which add to the eerie feeling of the story. The fraught relationship between the brothers was very well done, and Harry’s journey is quite moving. I enjoyed never quite knowing what was going on; it’s sort of the way a head injury or a near-death experience might feel. London during the Blitz is evoked quite vividly. It’s sort of but not quite a retelling, and a passing familiarity with the myth of Orpheus may help the reader.

I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley.

Review: House of Salt and Sorrows

House of Salt and Sorrows
By Erin A. Craig
Published August 6, 2019 by Delacorte Press

Publisher’s summary:
In a manor by the sea, twelve sisters are cursed.

Annaleigh lives a sheltered life at Highmoor, a manor by the sea, with her sisters, their father, and stepmother. Once they were twelve, but loneliness fills the grand halls now that four of the girls’ lives have been cut short. Each death was more tragic than the last—the plague, a plummeting fall, a drowning, a slippery plunge—and there are whispers throughout the surrounding villages that the family is cursed by the gods.

Disturbed by a series of ghostly visions, Annaleigh becomes increasingly suspicious that the deaths were no accidents. Her sisters have been sneaking out every night to attend glittering balls, dancing until dawn in silk gowns and shimmering slippers, and Annaleigh isn’t sure whether to try to stop them or to join their forbidden trysts. Because who—or what—are they really dancing with?

When Annaleigh’s involvement with a mysterious stranger who has secrets of his own intensifies, it’s a race to unravel the darkness that has fallen over her family—before it claims her next.

I absolutely loved House of Salt and Sorrows! It’s a retelling of the fairytale The Twelve Dancing Princesses, but it’s much darker than the original tale and it’s quite unique.

On a remote island lives a Duke and his daughters. There were once 12 sisters, but four of them have died and the family is in perpetual mourning. Annaleigh is now the second House of Saltoldest, and she begins to suspect that the most recent death wasn’t an accident. Fairytale retellings can be tricky. The reader already knows the basic plot, so there has to be something new to pull you into the story. House of Salt and Sorrows takes a very original approach to the story. Having some of the sisters already dead at the beginning of the story makes this as much a mystery as a fantasy, and I really enjoyed that aspect of the story.

The world building is really well done. The sense of the island, the sea, the life they live is vivid and really comes alive. The island is beautiful and creepy and vividly described. The islanders worship the sea god Pontus, and the pantheon of deities worshiped by the other parts of the country were fascinating. Annaleigh is a great character, and her grief is handled very nicely. I love fairytale retellings when they’re well done, and this one is nearly perfect. Even knowing the basic story, I had no idea where the story was going, and I was pleasantly surprised by how well the book stands on it own.

I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley.