Artist/Author: Jesper Ejsing
My rating: 5 of 5
Right from the moment I first opened the package containing Elsewhere, my first thoughts were “gorgeous” and “stunning.” The book itself is large and thick enough to have an impressive heft to it. And the cover is the breathtaking painting of a white dragon just lightly looking back at you with a faint smirk. And that’s honestly a good barometer for the rest of the volume. In this beautiful artbook, we are given over 400 pages of absolutely wonderful fantasy art. And right from the start, the author invites us to take the journey into his imagination alongside him–introducing the reader to his method and giving short explanations of the origins of and his feelings about certain works. What a journey, too! Here we see dragons (lots of impressive dragons), watch fierce battles, encounter a variety of strange beings in various habitats, and discover terrifying monsters.
Throughout, I’m impressed by . . . well, a lot of things actually. The sense of movement that Ejsing captures in his paintings, for one. He mentions in here that he tries to capture that moment where the outcome is undecided, where you don’t know who wins, and I feel that is done quite well. The sense of focus and balance is also impressive, feeding into that sense of motion and giving it order and meaning. And that is where these paintings really begin to truly come together and shine–because each one is telling a story, inviting us into a world only the artist can otherwise see. And the characters depicted in the paintings are full of personality and emotion, from their nuanced facial expressions to the movement of their limbs to the widely varied clothing that adorns them. The variety and sheer depth of imagination that is presented here is also impressive, and I have to admit that as a gamer, it will likely provide inspiration to me for years to come. Because so much of this work is tied to fantasy worlds that I know and love, like D&D and Pathfinder, worlds that Ejsing clearly has a passion for as well. My sole complaint about this book is that in a few rare instances, with the two-page spreads, there were some details lost in the centerfold, including important details like the faces of some individuals. But honestly, that is such a minor thing compared to how truly fabulous Elsewhere is as a whole, that it hardly bears mentioning. This is an artbook that I would definitely recommend, particularly to fans of fantasy art and to gamers. And hey, it would make a gorgeous coffee-table book for those of the geekier persuasion!
NOTE: I received a free review copy of Elsewhere from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review, which in no way affects the contents of this review.
By Hans Christian Andersen/Retold by Allison Grace MacDonald
Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline
My rating: 2.5 of 5
Kai and Gerda have always been best friends growing up just next door to each other. Or at least they were until Kai got a piece of an evil mirror stuck in his heart and became enthralled by the Snow Queen, completely disappearing from his home without a hint of where he’d gone. But Gerda knows him and loves him better than to accept that, and she’ll do whatever it takes to bring him home.
I’ve mentioned before that I’m not particularly familiar with Andersen’s writing, so I can’t honestly say how well this particular retelling compares to the original story. I do have to say though that I wasn’t largely impressed. To start with, the focus seems to be entirely on the illustrations–I actually had to find the re-teller’s name on Goodreads as she wasn’t listed anywhere I could find in the actual book. I feel sorry for her putting all that work in and not getting proper recognition! I grant that the illustrations are very nice–elegant compositions, pleasant colors, lots of fine details, and well-designed characters. But I felt like story lost out to composition time and again. Like, at the end they’re supposed to be grown up, but in the picture they don’t appear to have aged at all! Furthermore (and this might be in the interest of simplifying for younger readers, but I still don’t like it), the story itself seems disjointed and jumpy; too much happens with too little connection between events. I guess it depends on the reader: if you want a simple retelling and pretty pictures, this version of The Snow Queen might work well for you. As for myself, I’ll probably try to find another retelling at some point to compare.
Author: Hans Christian Andersen/Translator: Anthea Bell
Illustrator: Chihiro Iwasaki
My rating: 3.5 of 5
Ever since she was small, red shoes have been an obsession for Karen, a fascination that society frowns upon as quite improper. And yet, she can’t seem to give up her shiny new red shoes; they make her feel beautiful, make her feel like dancing. But when she chooses beauty and lightheartedness over loyalty and love, Karen finds herself cursed to dance and dance and dance her life away in those beautiful, dangerous red shoes. And the cost to escape this curse may be greater than any she could have imagined.
I know Hans Christian Andersen is something of a “classic” author, and of course I’ve heard his name all my life, but I think the extent of my actual exposure to his writing has been basically one poor retelling of The Little Match Girl and an endless string of poorly illustrated versions of The Ugly Duckling. So reading The Red Shoes was an interesting cultural experience for me, if only to gain greater exposure to this renowned author. The story is certainly classic fairy tale material: morally weighted, dark, macabre even at times. This is one of those things that always seems to get glossed over in the cheesy children’s retellings; most true fairy tales are really dark and dangerous, and plenty of them don’t end happily ever after, whatever we may wish. The Red Shoes actually does get, well, a non-tragic ending at least, although it’s awfully moralizing by the end. The whole story is really quite weighty in that regard, which I suppose is largely a reflection of the age and culture in which Andersen was writing. Still, it’s an interesting tale, and Bell’s translation is wonderful. (I actually seek out books translated by her, regardless of the original author, because I love her translation work!) And even if you don’t read this for the story itself, I would recommend browsing through the book for the pictures alone–Iwasaki’s watercolors are gorgeous in every detail. I can’t say The Red Shoes is a favorite of mine, but it certainly was worth the short time it took to read (for the story, the cultural experience, and especially for the art). Recommendation: pick it up at the library or buy used if possible.