Northlanders by Brian Wood, published by Vertigo
This historical epic is the perfect mix of history, Vikings and gore. It is an anthology series about various historical and legendary events and the passion of the creator is obvious. These are definitely not How-to-Train-Your-Dragon-style Vikings (I do like that film though!)
As a history nerd, I was genuinely impressed by the levels of historical accuracy and attention to detail throughout the series. In my opinion, this, and the series as a whole, peaks in Volume 2, which presents a history of the founding of Iceland, and highlights the brutality it took to create the country. Other historical events, such as the sacking of Paris (familiar to fans of the TV series Vikings). Also, there are many factual details, such as the Nordic belief that albinos are magical, or the accurate depictions of arms and armour. All supernatural events are supernatural only in the minds of the characters, with the reader being subtly shown the true cause of them. It is this insight into the ways of thinking of a time period that marks a great work of historical fiction, and this series has it.
The primary conflict of the series is one of old versus new, as the Pagan and Christian worlds clash. While the series never romanticises the world of the Dark Ages, with violence, disease and slavery all being shown as they were, there is definitely a sadness about the fall of traditional ways of life. The Christians are presented as bigoted and exploitative, extracting wealth from the gullible and violently suppressing dissent. While not inaccurate, the author’s apparent opposition to Christianity verges on genuine hatred, which may cause adherents of that religion to feel uncomfortable.
The Ancient Magus Bride by Kore Yamazaki
The effort to make reading some of Shakespeare’s most famous plays more engaging by adding the visual element that is so important to them is a bit hit and miss. Rather than review them all, or choose one, I will give some thoughts on the series as a whole.
Each book has a radically different art style, reflecting the vibrancy of the manga medium, so it is highly likely that you will find one that appeals to you. The visual element is often used to clarify some of the more obscure lines and is used well in the comedy scenes. The books employ non-traditional settings as well, a common practice when adapting Shakespeare. These settings are, however, quite familiar to manga aficionados and the series does a wonderful job of parodying these clichés, while simultaneously paying homage to them. That being said, these books illustrate the main problem with graphic novels: regardless of how great the story may be (and this is Shakespeare after all), it is still inaccessible if the art does not appeal to personal taste. The same is true of the exotic settings.
Each book uses Shakespeare’s original prose, for the most part succeeding in retaining the structure in its new form, though sometimes cutting out sections that are not absolutely essential. The need for such cuts is clear – the books would otherwise be unrealistically long or the pages covered in text – however it is still annoying when well-known lines are lost (the worst instance being the opening chorus to Romeo and Juliet, where the rhyme scheme was lost completely).
Another point in this series’ favour is its willingness to show all of Shakespeare’s work, regardless of modern sensibilities, respecting readers enough to trust them with difficult questions; the best example being the character of the Jewish money lender Shylock in The Merchant of Venice.
These books, while far from perfect, respect their source material and are excellent introductions for children and an opportunity for those familiar with Shakespeare’s work to reconnect with it and remind themselves of just how universal it truly is.
Featured Image: morebyless, Flickr