Thursday, April 29, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 85 (4/29) -- Dungeon: Twilight, Vol. 3 by Sfar, Trondheim, Kersascoet, and Obion

I find the "Twilight" books the least compelling and coherent of all the Dungeon sub-series -- though, I'll admit, this may be because I came in on the second volume. Both "Early Years" and "Zenith" follow a young, energetic naif being battered around by the world -- Hyacinthe in the former and Herbert in the latter -- only to be turned into an often unpleasant, cynical and nasty older man in the subsequent series. In "Twilight," the equivalent position is taken by Marvin the Red, who isn't as innocent or appealing -- he doesn't have the moral drive of Hyacinthe or the ne'er-do-well goofiness of the young Herbert. Marvin's high-powered armor doesn't help this feeling, either -- even in a scene with massive fire-breathing dragons, he always looks (and acts) tough enough to take care of himself, which was never true of Herbert and only intermittently for Hyacinthe.

The "Twilight" books are also the most concerned with large manifestations of power: with rulers and their armies, leverage both personal and physical, and the sharp end of the spear of the state. And that can translate to long conversations about who's manipulating who, and discussions of tactics that aren't nearly as exciting as seeing them would be. (This is where the Dungeon books' origins as French albums really shows -- the "Twilight" stories are larger and more complicated, with large casts, armies, and many massive characters, but they still have to fit into the same page counts, so all of those elements get crunched down into too-small panels and events whipsaw back and forth.)

This book, like all of the American editions, collects two original French albums, with essentially separate stories. Both are written by the core Dungeon team of Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim, though the art duties are split between the single-named artists Kerascoet (on "The New Centurions") and Obion (on "Revolutions"). That first story is the larger and more complicated of the two, and my problems above are with it more than with "Revolutions."

One of the things that I do appreciate, and love, about Dungeon is the way that major things -- the shape of the world, a fortress, family members, a distinctive suit of armor -- are lost quickly and definitively, in an almost offhand manner. The world of Dungeon is one where every day -- sometimes every moment -- that a character can spend alive is the result of a struggle. Sfar and Trondheim don't spare their major characters, either -- there's been no sign of Hyacinthe at all in the two volumes of "Twilight" I've seen, and Herbert became almost unrecognizable as the evil overlord-esque Grand Khan.

So "New Centurions" is a story of political and military struggle, overlaid with the usual Dungeon troubles with romance and friendship -- it's too complicated to summarize (and more complicated, unfortunately, than is really explicated in this volume), but it sees the Grand Khan and his daughter the Duchess of Craftiwitch arming in their own ways for battle, with lizards, dragons, a hundred tribes of somebody else, and various other factions confusing the issue. Oh, and what they're fighting over are the occasionally crumbling and always drifting pieces of exploded Terra Amata.

"Revolutions" is a smaller-scale story, with Marvin the Red (the rabbit-like ostensible young hero of the "Twilight" books) and Marvin the Dragon (Herbert's old friend and Dust King of his people) stuck on a quickly rotating land -- which provides its own dangers, since gravity still pulls "down" as if there was a planet far underneath.

"Revolutions" is up to the high level of most of the Dungeon stories, though "New Centurions" does read like the middle volume of an epic fantasy trilogy. That particular story would probably work better as part of a longer Dungeon-reading binge. And this certainly isn't the place to start with Dungeon -- though I do hope you do start somewhere with Dungeon; it's a quietly accretive work with a subtly constructed world and an very European view of adventure and adventurers.
Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index
Listening to: Those Darlins - Red Light Love
via FoxyTunes

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