Right from the start, it was very clear to me why Marie Pommepuy & Fabien Vehlmann named their story Beautiful Darkness. That’s exactly what it is, a beautifully illustrated story with an extremely dark plot. What starts out like a typical fairytale, quickly turns into a twisted one. After much thought, I decided that this story is the ultimate anti-fairytale. I pride myself in knowing a lot about fairytales, and while I’m a firm believer of “happily ever after,” I’m well aware that most of the classic stories don’t end as magically as the movies make us believe. However, I’ve never read anything quite as gut wrenching as Beautiful Darkness. The story has a way of taking you on an emotional rollercoaster. The second you think everything is normal, something unexpected happens.
Brace yourself; the majority of this story consists of a group of tiny people making a life for themselves around the dead body of a young girl. That includes some of them crawling through her ear into her maggot filled brain. But don’t let that stop you from reading it, because beyond the sometimes graphic illustrations, lies a story about the imbalance of responsibility amongst a newly formed society and how it affects a very brave girl.
Now, I’m not talking about the dead girl on the ground that slowly rots away throughout the story. I’m talking about the main character, Aurora. Don’t let her petite, cute exterior fool you. She proves to go above and beyond what any sole person should do when so many well and able people surround them. The evolution of her character throughout the story hit home for me. In life there are people that live with the curse of competency and those people are often taken advantage of. Aurora has that curse, and it wares on her until she is forced to transform her giving nature into a self-focused one. I don’t want to spoil anything about her journey, but I will share my thoughts about some of the other characters.
This society is made up of many colorful strange beings, but there are three characters that I want to address here. You have the prince, Hector, the villain, Zelie, and the side-kick, Plim. Hector is full of himself like most royalty, but doesn’t possess the brave qualities that most princes are known for in literature. Zelie is a confident villain that reminds me of a typical high school mean girl. She bosses everyone around, climbs the social ladder, and expects to be bowed down to for her minimal contributions to society. The side kick, Plim, is an outstanding backstabber. He appears to be helpful and loyal to Aurora, when really he is just like the others. While all of them possess unique qualities, they have one thing in common. They screw Aurora over constantly, which results in a twist-filled plot.
Thank god for Kerascoet’s colorful watercolor art style. It’s honestly what makes the story so enjoyable to read. For those of you who don’t know, Kerascoet is actually a duo of artists made up of Marie Pommepuy and Sebastien Cosset. I found that to be an interesting fun fact when I was researching the artist, or should I say artists. I assure you that the mood of the art is a healthy mixture of cheerful and gloomy. Kerascoet has a nice way of balancing things. They bring the story to life with a combination of vibrant colors and earthy tones. Since most of the story takes place in a forest, there are some fantastic illustrations of animals and nature throughout.
Overall, I give the story two thumbs up. If you’re a fan of stories that aren’t exactly what they seem I would definitely give this one a shot. Like I said, it’s the ultimate anti-fairytale. You won’t find the predictability that you often find in fairytales here. It transports you to a different level of seeing and will make you wonder what might be running from your footsteps next time you take a nature walk.
Beautiful Darkness is published by Drawn & Quarterly, written by Marie Pommepuy & Fabien Vehlmann with art by Kerascoet. It’s Translated by Helge Dascher.