By Eric Orchard
Welcome to Marrowbones Swamp, a spookily magical sort of nowhere place of uncertain dimensions and geography.
This is Eric Orchard creating something very familiarly cutesy-dark, a very Gaiman-esque twisted fairy tale of a children’s book, something that would sit well amongst the Coralines, the Courtney Crumrins, the Scarygodmothers, the generally ookie and kookie sort of tales of this world.
It is, as all the best fairy tales are, a simple tale, of a girl called Nora, and her Uncle Barnaby, who owns The Ravensbeard Inn. Then again, Uncle Barnaby happens to be a werewolf himself, and Nora’s about as average as the next girl who can see vampires, werewolves, dead folks, and has a nervous vampire friend called Ollie who’s often too scared to come out of his tomb because he’s heard scratching noises on the roof.
To Nora, Ravensbeard Inn is home, and Uncle Ravensbeard is all the family she’s got.
Well, that’s not quite true, but mom and dad don’t seem the nicest of sorts, having dropped her off at the gloomy, miserable Hillgrove School for Haunted Children. Uncle Ravensbeard came to her rescue, freeing her, although it’s never quite certain whether Hillgrove House had much choice in the matter, given the nature of her liberators, rather big, creepy looking sorts.
And so it goes, in a series of interlocking little tales, (all narrated by “The Librarian“, yet another of Marrowbone’s unusual residents) we get to see how Nora arrived at Ravensbeard, meet Mrs Strum (lives somewhere in the inn, although no-one is quite sure where), see Nora and co come to grips with the Kitchen Lich and his strange little dough zombies….
Orchard’s got something here with with Marrowbones Swamp and The Ravensbeard Inn, a catch all for any sort of creepily cute sort of story he wants to tell. There’s certainly enough here to convince me that there’s more stories of Marrowbone Swamp I’d like to read.
Sure, there are little faults here and there; the overly elaborate gothic-y font for vampire Ollie gave me a headache trying to read it on screen, there are a few moments where the dialogue could do with tightening up a touch, but really, that’s nitpicky. Marrowbones is short yet sweet, a quirky, creepy, cutesy thing to appeal to grown ups and kids alike.
The big downside to Marrowbones is that it’s digital only. And something this sweetly dark just doesn’t lend itself to modern screen viewing. This is calling out to be published properly, something small, intimate, a just right for little hands hardcover perhaps. Fingers crossed.