Grandville by Brian Talbot graphic novel reviewsGrandville by Bryan Talbot

Grandville by Brian Talbotfantasy and science fiction book reviewsExquisite, fantastical artwork lifts Grandville out of the ordinary. Bryan Talbot’s graphic novel, set in an alternate fantasy world where homo sapiens sapiens is not the dominant species, and Napoleon won the Peninsular Wars, is a true luxury to read, due mostly to the stunning, vividly executed pictures.

But Napoleon? Napoleon, probably the third of that name, is a lion. Archie LeBrock, the Scotland Yard Detective-Inspector who is our hero, is a badger and his sergeant is a rat.

In Talbot’s lushly realized steampunk world, France dominates Europe. Britain was a French possession, but British rebels engaged in terrorism and managed to wrest the island’s freedom away from Napoleon. The people of France hate and distrust the Brits and fear another terrorist attack, especially in light of a deadly assault on the Robida Tower two years previously, where an airship filled with explosives crashed into the tower, destroying it and killing hundreds. To American readers, that may sound familiar. Humans did evolve but are less than second-class citizens, relegated to menial labor, with few or no rights at all. One human plays a small role in this story, assisting LeBrock.

From the beautiful steampunk end papers to the fluid word “Fin” at the bottom of the final page, the book’s artwork delights. The opening chapter, or perhaps prologue, shows us a Paris with an elevated train and cobbled streets. Talbot uses the puddles on the street to reflect some buildings, giving us an idea of the height of the city. In the opening sequence, we follow a high-speed chase between two odd-looking steam-powered vehicles. A fox, boar and a lizard chase an otter. Talbot plays with perspective, and balances his frames with intricate details; the delicate chasing on Leigh-Otter’s gun stock is reflected in the splintered bullet hole above the otter’s head. We see the use of perspective giving depth to a frame throughout the book. You also have to look at the whole picture when you read Grandville; things happen in the background.

Grandville by Brian Talbot

LeBrock and Ratzi are called in to investigate a locked-room murder, and the investigation takes them to Paris via the gorgeous train-bridge that spans the channel. At first, LeBrock behaves somewhat like Sherlock Holmes, using close observation and attention to detail to uncover clues. Once he gets to Paris he changes, becoming a detective-thug who uses physical force and torture to garner information. The story includes arms dealers, automatons, and femme fatales, particularly Sarah Blairow, a famous actress and singer (Sarah Bernhardt, anyone?) who catches LeBrock’s eye in a non-suspect kind of way.

Grandville by Brian TalbotThe story corkscrews from mystery to political thriller. It is predictable, but once again exquisite artwork carries the reader through. Talbot captures expression on non-human faces convincingly; turn to page 58 and watch the various expressions on the Archbishop’s face as he goes from being a sanctimonious person of power to a helpless victim in two frames. On page 61, we see the same character’s expression rotate through defiance, fear and resolute hatred.

Talbot can’t resist a few time-honored jokes, (“We don’t need no stinking badgers!”) and I found the references to the World Trade Towers to be over the top, especially “ground zero” where the Robida Tower used to be. Not all the bipedal animals work for me, especially the rhinoceros and the horse drug-dealer. Overall, though, Talbot’s flight of fancy works well.

Grandville is a complete story. This world is rich enough to support more stories, and there are more, but in this one LeBrock has solved his mystery and far more by the end. The book is violent and gory. Talbot likes his sprays of red and deploys them with gusto. They do not detract from the beauty of the book or the thrill of the story. The world-building has a few glitches but the artwork more than balances them out. Grandville is a beautiful read.

Publisher: Two hundred years ago, Britain lost the Napoleonic War and fell under the thumb of French domination. Gaining independence after decades of civil disobedience and anarchist bombings, the Socialist Republic of Britain is now a small, unimportant backwater connected by a railway bridge, steampowered dirigible, and mutual suspicion to France. When a British diplomat’s murder is made to look like suicide, ferocious DetectiveInspector LeBrock of Scotland Yard stalks a ruthless murder squad through the heart of a Belle Epoque Paris, the center of the greatest empire in a world of steamdriven hansom cabs, automatons, and flying machines. LeBrock’s relentless quest can lead only to death, truth . . . or war.


  • Marion Deeds

    Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town.