BY SEAN CLARK
2004, Dark Horse Books
Filed Under: Graphic Novel, Fantasy, Horror
After reading to the prologue to this slim graphic novel in Titan’s Monster Massacre anthology, I ordered Kingdom of the Wicked right away. That excerpt hit such a perfectly grotesque balance of menace and whimsy that I knew this book would be for me. And while that prologue is still the standout segment of the book, Edginton and D’Israeli’s twisted fantasy most certainly lived up to my expectations.
The story splits its time between the real world and the fantasy world of Castrovalva we are introduced to in the prologue. Chris Grahame is a wildly successful children’s books author. Castrovalva is the fantasy world he invented as a child, and has since more or less forgotten. Chris starts getting crippling migraines, headaches so bad he blacks out in pain. Soon these migraines induce vivid hallucinations in which Chris is transported back to Castrovalva, only to find his former fantasy escape in ruin, besieged by years of war waged against a ruthless despot who goes by The Dictator.
The line between imagined and real becomes blurred for Chris as he sees his childhood memories butchered and obliterated around him. Further exploration of the ravaged Castrovalva brings Chris closer to The Dictator, and as the connection between the two becomes clearer, so does the realization that what happens in imaginary Castrovalva might have very real effects in reality.
What works particularly well about this book is Castrovalva’s peculiarity. It’s a disjointed and wholly incohesive world, a place where the connections between characters and places are rooted in a child’s playthings rather than any sort of thematic continuity. D’Israeli’s art illustrates this perfectly, such as the spread of the giant, mossy, bed-shaped mountain from under which the firelight of The Dictator’s war machine seeps. It’s a great example of storytelling and illustration working together to depict a very specifically realized fantasy world, but without getting caught up in overly grandiose ambition. Kingdom‘s Castrovalva is at once vast and claustrophobic, perfectly reflecting the psychological implications of the plot.
Similar Reads: The Book of Lost Things (Connolly), The Arrival (Tan)