Unshelved recommends Beautiful Darkness

“Beautiful Darkness” / Unshelved / Gene Ambaum / February 27, 2015

Aurora is having cake and hot chocolate with Prince Hector when the ceiling starts to drip. Aurora flees and is nearly trapped in a dead end, but she pushes through and emerges into the rain, in the forest, from the orifices of a dead girl’s head, along with many other tiny people. The next day they seem unperturbed (or unaware) of the dead “giant” (she’s our size) and set about gathering food and trying to figure out how to live. (Recycling the contents of the dead girl’s backpack is a big part of this.) Aurora strives to be helpful and to make sure everyone has a fair share of what’s available, but life in the forest is dangerous, and many of the tiny people are far less noble than Aurora.

Why I picked it up: The happy looking miniature girl on the cover made me wonder about the title. Then I noticed she was peering from behind a giant, grey hand. Together with the back cover’s fly-covered, discolored legs, that hinted at something horrific.

Why I finished it: This looks like an upbeat, beautiful graphic novel about tiny people along the lines of Miyazaki’s The Secret World of Arrietty, but it quickly becomes clear that it’s much darker. When a little blue girl climbs into a bird’s nest to be fed with the other chicks, the mama bird plunges a bug deeply into her open mouth, turning her face into a bloody mess. A helpless, swaddled baby is repeatedly forgotten and abandoned. Throughout it all, the dead girl’s body rots in the forest, forgotten by everyone except the little person who lives in the hole in her skull.

It's perfect for: My friend Darcy’s eight-year-old daughter, who chose a volume of Roman Dirge’s Lenoreon a recent trip to the bookstore with her grandma. Apparently she’s a fan of dead girls, cannibals, and monsters, so who am I to argue?

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