Y’know, on a Redwall book earlier I suggested that the art was not cartoony enough, and I suspect I’m going to have to eat those words.
First, I do have to give credit for an unusual approach and an interesting use of color and light.
So … Here we have an upper-class squirrel of indeterminate gender and a lower-class bat who is most definitely male (Not like that. Geez. I mean he has facial features, a facial expression, and a posture that British children’s book illustrators always give to the comic-relief male lower-class sidekick. He probably talks like Penfold from Dangermouse.) on an epic quest somewhere. The squirrel will have a normal heroic name. The bat probably has a name like Bindlestick or something and by the end of the book will be hopelessly devoted to the squirrel. C’mon, it’s a trope.
The squirrel’s fur is close-fitting enough that we can tell it has an innie bellybutton, but the panel thoughtfully painted in at the bottom means we don’t know its gender. Based on the goofy eyelashes and the wheatstraw braid on top of its head, I’m guessing girl. (By the way, do European squirrels really have pointed ears like those? In North America they all have tiny round little ears like mice.)
The bat’s position is indeterminate. Is he flying? Or is he hanging off a hook in the panels behind him? He has a sort of hand on his left wing, but nothing but bones on his right. His left foot appears to be a tiny handlike thing (a little above the “a” in the author’s name). Accounting for all the handlike things, that can only mean that that is his right foot holding the dagger under the squirrel’s elbow, since both “her” hands are visible above — and it is disconceringly larger than his left foot. So he’s flying around right next to her with a dagger in his paw.
Looking closer, I can see he has one of those medievalish bowl-shaped haircuts popularized by the Brother Cadfael TV series.
Huh. It’s the epic quest of the squirrel princess Ysabelle and the bat Vespertilio.
Sounds kind of dark. There is betrayal, poisoning, murder, suicide, torture, onscreen ritual sacrifice to dark gods by being skinned alive, doomladen prophecy, excrucitaing violence, and a semitragic ending.
Which means if it were made into a movie, the MPAA would rate it PG (suitable for all but the youngest children) since it has no sex.
But also means that the cover is kind of misleading. I would have thought it a children’s story.
Robin Jarvis is a great author who has recently started publishing again (try Dancing Jax or Freax and Rejex) and, although they are listed as teen books, they are very dark and disturbing. Jarvis is not afraid to get you involved with a character and then kill them. Brutally. A friend’s daughter, who said the stomach-bursting scene in Alien was ‘cool’, had to stop reading one of the Deptford Mice books after a pitched battle scene which was littered with bodies…
JARVIS! Robin Jarvis bloody traumatised my childhood. First the Deptford Mice, then this series. Good gravy this stuff was dark.
This is the cover from my copy. The art is an accurate representation, and I don’t think it’s particularly bad. I believe the squirrel lady shown is drawn accurately too; she was very old, completely white/grey and blind. But I never liked how her face was painted.