Pretty Deadly Volume 1: The Shrike – Deconnick, Rios, Bellaire, Cowles

This has been sitting on my desk for ages. Months and months. I mean, it moved house with me, and I’ve been in the new place a fair old while. And I am ashamed and abashed that I have not got round to reading it, because it was absolutely bloody brilliant.

I’ve been watching Westworld, and I think that helped me read this with the correct accents, and very much helped me be in the right mood for weird Western shit, though this is magic shit, not robot shit. But I’ve been enjoying Westworld a lot, so opening it and seeing Westerny stuff was not as much a cause for meh as it might otherwise be, as I’m not usually a fan of the genre. And then it gave me weird mythology stuff, and I was all happy again. Let’s be honest, I’m easily pleased.

There’s at least one story pulled in… a folk myth, I guess, more than anything else… that I was already familiar with, and I get the feeling there was more folk mythology going on that I wasn’t. It has that sense to it of layers and layers where you only spot them if you happen to know the right bits of trivia. Which is a feeling I like. It’s exactly that feeling that brings you back to a book you’ve read once already, knowing you might find something new the next time you see it. But there’s more than that. While I don’t think it chooses to invoke any specific mythology, it has a very strong sense of the mythical genre and it plays that weird general-ness really well. The art, which is beautifully… scrappy… old-timey… something… plays into this too, using sharp lines and rough edges to delineate death/Beauty and the messy real world. And it has that sense of not-quite-real to a lot of it that supports the mystique really nicely.

But the main draw/uniqueness is the completely weird and unexplained framing mechanism for the whole story. We begin with a butterfly and a dead rabbit, and the rabbit is telling the story to the butterfly, who asks questions. And we get… precisely zero explanation for this. And it does pop up again and again to pull the story onwards. But do we get an explanation for it? Nope. I almost hope we never do, because it is wonderfully surreal and somehow just… works.

What we don’t really get, however, is much of a sense of any of the characters. There’s just no time for it. For all that this is much the same size as WicDiv or Ody-C, it doesn’t feel as long, or like it has the time or space to develop its people in the same way. Things… just happen? And it’s ok, it works. But it’s a different vibe to a lot of the things I really love. It’s very much just its own thing. I can hear their voices clearly in my head, and the story telling is vivid and real… but I never get a sense of them as people. Which, weirdly, I really don’t mind.

What it feels like is the sort of film or tv show, indeed, set in a Western setting, where you get a lot of bit with an older male voiceover drawling slightly mournfully. And stuff happens, but it’s not so much about the people as the mournful voiceover man (who’ll inevitably be the older version of the main character or whatever). It has that sense of detachment from the narrative. And I would never have thought I’d enjoy that, at all. But I really really did.

And I think the main part of that is just that Pretty Deadly is very, very pretty to look at. And the actions scenes particularly. The story is fun. But it’s just an enjoyable thing to gaze upon.

And I’m going to stop there (and maybe edit this tomorrow to be coherent) because this blog has been brought to you by 8.2% cider and I can really tell with how disjointed my writing is…

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About readerofelse

A student of a redundant, useless and thoroughly interesting subject and reader of many books, particularly fantasy, science fiction and plenty else besides.
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