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Grandville Mon Amour
by Bryan Talbot
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200 years ago Napoleon won his wars and France conquered the world. Britain became a backwater province of the big empire until 23 years ago when a violent revolution kicked out the French and established the Socialist Republic of Britain. But that is not everything that Talbot changed in history - in his story humanity never made it to the top of the evolutionary chain - it was all the other animals that did that - although by the time we hear about, humans had evolved somewhere in France (but are considered second-rate and are not granted citizenship).
The second volume in Talbot's Grandville opens 6 weeks after we left DI Archibald LeBrock and his faithful companion Detective Roderick Ratzi after they managed to prevent a war between England and France while killing the emperor Napoleon XII and starting a revolution in France before getting back home to England. You don't need to have read that first story to enjoy this one but there are some spoilers so if you plan to read both, you probably should read them in order.
LeBrock had spent the last 6 weeks hiding in his room - he may have prevented a war, found the truth about a conspiracy and kick-started a revolution but he lost a woman he fell in love with in the process and he still blames himself for it. When he finally emerges (after Roderick drags him back into the world of the living), it is because one of the craziest villains he had ever captured had managed to escape during his own execution - and it appears that he is across the Channel in France and back to his old murderous habits. Except that his commander in Scotland Yard does not want to give him the case - which LeBrock solves in the usual way for a detective in pretty much any detective novel one can read - he resigns and goes on working on the issue at hand. Roderick decides that he will help (he has days off after all) despite his 26 (on last count) kids and Mrs. Razzi who need his salary (oh, did I forget to mention that Razzi is a rat and LeBrock is a badger?) and off they go on the train over the railroad bridge across the Channel and back to France and the City of Light. And before you know it, our heroes are elbows deep into yet another conspiracy.
Talbot's world is a mirror of ours - except for France having had the Empire and the animals evolving before the humans. There is no real species differentiation (except for the people who are anti cross-species relationships) although in a lot of cases the species of the animal and their occupation match our preconceptions - the Mad Dog criminal is actually a dog; the dancers and prostitutes we meet are mostly cats, the madam is a sow and so on. Talbot does not cast specific races or professions into the same animals - all animals evolved and mixed up (Napoleon XII who lost it all in the first volume was a lion; we see walruses and all kinds of other animals in both books). Even if you remove the whole animal evolution, this would have been a pretty decent alternative history tale. But having the animals on top of the chain and having France winning the war allows for a much slower development of the technology and science (England never gets its overseas empire and France conquers most of Europe instead) and the history drifted in an almost believable way.
By the end of this volume, LeBrock manages to uncover the truth about some of the more disturbing parts of the revolution that liberated Britain 23 years earlier, got a few more important people killed and got his job back in the process - after all, this world is just like ours so why would a detective novel follow any different patterns.
And the art is gorgeous (albeit very dark - both literally and in its topics) occasionally.
On to part three of the story for me.
Bryan Talbot's a gifted-as-hell writer, and, like Gaiman or McCloud, an historian on storytelling and comics. I've enjoyed everything I've read from Talbot so far, including this, but this is the first book where the flaws really took away from the experience.
[N.B. This review includes images, and was formatted for my site, dendrobibliography -- located here.]
Grandville Mon Amour is the first sequel to 2009's Grandville: A pulpy steampunk tale that thrives (intentionally, I presume) on cliches to tell gripping, silly yarns. It's a huge departure from Talbot's earlier, often abstruse trademark in that it's all sex and thrilling shots of testosterone set in a steampunk Europe populated by anthropomorphic animals.
I enjoyed the first one well enough, but Mon Amour quickly fell apart for me. For being about a Holmes-ian badger detective hunting down a serial killer and a conspiracy, it's a little painful to have the mystery's solution bash the reader over the head a full 80 pages (in a 90-page story!) before our heroes figure out what should have been plainly obvious. It's never fun for the characters to intentionally slip into sudden, out-of-character ignorance for the sake of maintaining tension.
Not only that, but Mon Amour tends to beat the cliches its living in a little too strongly: Sarah, the prequel's love interest, is replaced too quickly by a doppleganger who serves the exact same role, down to her personality and voice; Lebrock, word-for-word, has that 'I'm-a-rebel-cop-with-nothing-to-lose!' shouting match culminating in his quitting the force; the solution to the serial killer story is so full of holes (right down to how he escapes custody and his motivations) that the entire plot just falls to pieces, which, again, ruins the intended tension.
It was still a fun, quick read, and Talbot's still a talented enough dude that I recommend checking his work out--just don't start by looking here. Pick up the Tale of One Bad Rat, or Alice in Sunderland.
This is the 2nd of Bryan Talbot's Inspector LeBrock graphic novels, set in an alternative steampunk post-Napoleonic Britain & Paris (aka Grandville) where Britain has battled for its independence from a tyrannical France and the population is made up of anthropomorphised animals. Mad Dog Mastock, a former anarchist guerilla leader and vicious killer of prostitutes, has escaped prison and the guillotine and head to Grandville. His spree continues, but it seems his pattern has changed. So what's really going on?
I preferred this one, and the story felt more coherent. Once again, the illustrations are lavish and gorgeous. Talbot brings to life the richness and sumptuousness of the period together a fantastic sense of lighting and wonderful steampunk visuals.
Again, thanks to the Hugo shortlist I have tried one of the great graphic novel writers for the first time, and while I was not as blown away by this as I was by the first two volumes of Mike Carey's The Unwritten, I am realising that I should look out for more Talbot. Grandville Mon Amour is set in an alternate London and Paris, where all characters (apart from a couple of human muggers) are anthropomorphised animals: Inspector LeBrock, the central figure, has the head of a badger. England has recently regained independence and declared itself a socialist republic after a bloody occupation by France, and LeBrock finds himself investigating an escaped prisoner and a series of murders which take him to a top-level political conspiracy. To be honest the plot was not terribly surprising, and (unlike Spiegelmann's Maus) we never get a good handle on why some people are badgers, others dogs and others again hippopotami, but the loving and colourful detail of the story's bizarre background, combining familiar landmarks with inhuman faces and steampunk technology, is pretty memorable.
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Wikipedia in English (2)
Convicted psychotic killer and extremist fanatic Edward "Mad Dog" Mastock violently escapes the guillotine's blade in the Tower of London to once again terrorize the Socialist Republic of Britain. But dogging Mastock's bloody footsteps is his longtime adversary and nemesis, Detective Inspector Archie LeBrock, at odds with Scotland Yard and intent on bringing Mastock's horrific murder spree to an end, once and for all. Aided by his friend and colleague Detective Roderick Ratzi, LeBrock follows the trail of carnage to Paris, otherwise known as Grandville, the largest city in a world dominated by the French Empire and the prime target of Mastock's sadistic terrorism. Can LeBrock capture the Mad Dog before he can mete out his final vengeance, or will LeBrock's own quest for redemption be dragged to ground by the demons of his past? The badger is back! Set three weeks after the finale of Grandville Bryan Talbot's critically acclaimed steampunk graphic novelGrandville Mon Amour explores an alternate artnouveau world populated by intelligent animals, a human underclass, robot automatons, and advanced steam technology that power everything from hansom cabs to iron flying machines. * Grandville Mon Amour is the second in a planned series of Grandville graphic novels. * The world of Grandville is described by Talbot as "like Jules Verne and Sherlock Holmes directed by Quentin Tarantinowith animals!" [On Grandville] "Every panel is a work of art." Booklist
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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)741.5The arts Graphic arts and decorative arts Drawing & drawings Cartoons, Caricatures, Comics
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An imaginative series to try if you’re looking for something different. Don’t let the humanoid animals freak you out. ( )