Beautiful Darkness (Drawn and Quarterly) opens as a girl called Aurora has tea with a boy she has a crush on. (They met at the ball the other night.) Then — in seconds — they find themselves struggling to survive in the woods. They are all very wee, and the woods are normal-sized. They also appear to have emerged from the decomposing corpse of a little girl. Possibly — the book isn’t explicit about this — all of the tiny people are aspects of the dead girl’s personality, now set free to roam freely and tinily around the woods.
If that synopsis seems unwarrantedly weird, don’t blame me. Apply to Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoët. Beautiful Darkness as a title possesses the same search-engine-optimized simplistic accuracy as Snakes on a Plane. This is a book that is beautiful, and a book that is dark.
The drawings have the beautiful, sunlit look of a fairy tale, but the things that are going on are just about as gruesome as you can imagine. In one scene, a tiny person climbs into a bird nest and opens its mouth wide to be fed, only to have its throat and torso perforated by the sharp beak of the mother bird as she attempts to feed it. That is not the most alarming thing that happens in this book.
I think I would have loved this book better if it had confined itself to being thematically dark. The thematic stuff was excellent. Though Aurora starts out wanting nothing more than to keep everyone together, we quickly see that many of the tiny people are completely without conscience, pulling legs off beetles or leaving each other to die with no qualms at all. By the time she begins to feel disillusioned with her comrades, the reader has been shuddering at them for ages. And the book’s ending is excellent. Exactly the kind of inevitable doominess that I adore!
But see also above re: as gruesome as you can imagine. I don’t do well with grossness, and there is a lot of grossness. Some of it relates to the main few characters, and some of it doesn’t; it feels slapped in at random, as the writer and artists thought of yucky things that might befall tiny people, or that tiny conscienceless people might inflict on each other and their surroundings. And plus, you know. Maggots. My tolerance is low.