Some books you approach unknown, some you approach with the weight of everyone else’s praise weighing heavy upon your thoughts.
Porcelain is the latter.
I first caught wind of it before Thought Bubble 2012, then first saw the sampler comic at TB. And then got caught up in life stuff and didn’t get around to looking at it until now. Meanwhile there had already been fulsome praise for it from various sources I normally take as read that I’ll agree with. Joe Gordon here at the FPI Blog is one of those, and he loved it, telling you all about it here.
So I’m not going to go into too much detail here, best to quickly refer back to that review for the details. However, a few basics first.
Porcelain’s subtitle of “A Gothic Fairy Tale” is certainly apt, throw in the term Steampunk, look at the cover, and I reckon your mind already has something of a picture forming as to the look and feel of the book. If I echo Joe’s mention of Bluebeard and you pretty much have the story in front of you.
It starts in the snow, and it begins with misery and brutality, young Child forced to enter the grounds of the rumoured local wizard or face another beating from Belle. Shades of Oliver Twist and Fagin’s gang, although the brutality extends both ways here, when the gang are caught and put to the rope. Child, too poor even for a name it seems, escapes this fate but fears she’ll meet another inside the walls:
Beasts of Porcelain, created and controlled by the evil wizard of the tale, who is in actual fact, just an old man in need of companionship, mourning the death of his wife. A kind hearted soul, he takes Child in and she becomes a part of his world, allowed full run of the vast house, with but one rule; all the rooms are hers to venture inside except those she finds locked.
The secrets of the Porcelain making are slowly revealed, but again the maker keeps the alchemist’s final process to himself, Child being too young to fully understand the secret, but curiosity is a dangerous thing…..
From there I’ll leave your mind to fill in the story as it unfolds. It’s very familiar, treading ground covered many times before in fairy and folk tale, although rendered here in some beauty by the stylings of Chris Wildgoose, who does his very best Paul Smith impression, and delivers page after page of certain beauty.
The thing is, where the other reviews found it enthralling I actually found it frustrating, a missed opportunity. It’s certainly very good, indeed the first two thirds of the book is verging on the excellent. The problem is that this first two thirds is excellent because it does such a good job of building up the characters and situations, with a very sentimental tale, the old man heartbroken and lonely, the young child, broken and in need of family. It’s very well done indeed, tugging the heartstrings quite nicely.
But all that character building fills so much of the book that, by the time the final third comes along, the action seems forced, Read attempting to gather the plot together, generate tension, conflict and resolution within all too few pages. The pacing goes wrong from there; with the final third of the book practically tripping over itself to introduce and resolve some conflict, and rush headlong towards a telegraphed ending. It easily needed another 50 pages to play everything out at the right pace, then we could have explored the emotions of the child and the maker enough to deliver what would have been a near perfect book. As it is, this is all brilliant potential, beautiful art, lovingly created characters playing out a familiar tale and rushing oh too fast to the ending.
It may well just be me, others I respect have told me already that I’m wrong, I know the ending has reduced grown adults to tears, but it just didn’t get me, didn’t resonate the way I hoped, and although the ending is sad, it’s not the heartbreakingly sad for me that it was for others. It just doesn’t quite get me to tears, doesn’t quite get there, not quite.
And that’s pretty much the encapsulation of my problem with Porcelain – it just doesn’t get there, not quite. It really could have been, in fact should have been so much better. However, I’m merely one voice here, and I’m in the minority, so have a look, see what you think. I may well be completely wrong, it has been known before.