THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF EARLY EARTH by Isabel Greenberg

THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF EARLY EARTH

KIRKUS REVIEW

The debut graphic novel from author/illustrator Greenberg winkingly follows a master storyteller’s journey through an ancient land of men, gods, magic and love.

The story opens on a kayaking meet cute between two psuedo-Inuits who are held apart by an invisible, unknowable force. Undeterred, the soul mates marry and settle in for a long South Pole winter of just talking—no problem when the husband is a master storyteller from the far-off land of Nord. He recounts his mysterious origins as a babe in a basket among the reeds of Sky Lake, discovered by three distinct sisters who each wanted the boy for her own. A medicine man obliged by splitting the boy’s soul in thirds, though a teensy bit escaped into the ether. The newly formed triplets lived disturbingly unbalanced, extreme lives until a rite of passage reunited them, cramming an overabundance of personality into a single boy—but giving him plenty of yarns to spin. Still, he longed for the missing part of his soul and set off across the frozen sea to find it. He journeyed to the savage woods of Britanitarka and the sprawling metropolis of Midgal Bavel, battled Cyclopes and sea monsters, navigated palace intrigue and blood feuds, surviving by his silver tongue and divine intervention. Along the way, the book depicts the larger history and culture of these ancient lands, particularly the common worship of the god Birdman and his ravens, Kid and Kiddo. Greenberg’s flat, rich illustrations are gorgeous. Her simple, detailed lines contrast with a heavy, matte black, as strategic, restrained color breathes dioramic depth into the pages. The sheer number of tales and the deft paneling (particularly expressive during spell castings) keep the pace brisk and the thrill of discovery palpable. But an irreverent, contemporary tone runs throughout, and this, combined with the early-Earth mythology’s tendency to closely resemble well-known stories (particularly from the Old Testament) without developing the significance of these similarities, undermines the book’s grander ambitions, leaving the work wavering between epic and precious, style and substance, the best of Wes Anderson and the worst.

A beautiful, promising work that doesn’t quite coalesce.

Pub Date: Dec. 3rd, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-316-22581-6
Page count: 176pp
Publisher: Little, Brown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 2013