Reviews: Bera the One-Headed Troll
Now this is a book I have been very much looking forward to. I adored Eric’s first Maddy Kettle book (published a couple of years ago by Top Shelf), it was utterly gorgeous and enchanting, and invited repeated readings; it would go on to make my annual Best of the Year list (review here). Back in June First Second were kind enough to send us some pages to share as a wee preview, which just further whetted my appetite (you can see it here), so I was very happy to finally get my hands on the finished book, which, as I suspect it would, turned out to be a pure delight.
Bera is a very quite wee soul, almost reclusive, a small, one-headed troll living on her own little island with just her owly chum Winslowe for company, and growing pumpkins for the Troll King (in one of many lovely little fine details throughout the book, you can see above the door lintel to her home a carved pumpkin with a small crown, denoting her royal patronage). It’s a fairly secluded – perhaps even a little lonely – lifestyle, but the quiet Bera seems content with it. Or at least if not content, comfortable – it feels though that perhaps she might like to engage with the bigger, wider world beyond her wee island, but she’s a little frightened of it. The world can offer up wonders and treasures, but it can also be an awfully scary place to. Maybe it is better being at home, “But I’m happy with my island and the occasional Christmas card from the Royal Family.”
But circumstances are about to overturn Bera’s quiet, ordered life as one of the greatest changes anyone can have is thrust on her – a child. A human baby that’s somehow ended up washed up on the shores of her island in a large pot. attracted by a commotion Bera spots the infant being fought over by some truly hideous looking mermaids (nothing Disney about these creatures, they are awful thing in both looks and actions). And suddenly quiet little mouse Bera finds herself standing up against these nasty bullies to save the child. This gentle soul has suddenly discovered the steel inside herself, a strength she didn’t know she had. As is so often the case it takes another person to draw out of any of us qualities we didn’t know we had, especially when we need to look after another.
As with young Maddy in Eric’s previous book, Bera is going to find herself going on a quest, in the best fantasy and folkloric tradition, a quest not for honour or wealth but to help another. She will seek out others for help and advice – heroes of legend – and of course she will cross paths with evil figures out to do harm, witches, goblins and more. And it would be a terrible shame to spoil the story any further by going into any more detail about the plot here, so I will restrain myself. Besides, the actual story is only a part of it, it’s the atmosphere, the gorgeously detailed art (that draws in all sorts of references, from Rackham to Mignola and more) and, as with all the best quests, it’s more about the lessons the hero, even an unlikely hero, learns about themselves and the world along the way which are most important.
Running under all of this adventure and visual delights though there’s also another adventure, probably one of the greatest adventures, that of becoming a parent, a great, rolling adventure of ups and downs and terrifying oh-my-god-what-am-I-doing moments as the weight of responsibility bears down on you, but tempered with those joyous moments that make it all so worthwhile. I know Eric’s own mother struggled with mental health issues, and it isn’t hard to see something of her in Bera, dealing with her own problems but doing her best to look after her child too, or indeed elements of Eric’s own role as a parent and what he’s learned (and I’m sure many readers will see something of their own family in it too).
This is an absolute delight from start to finish, utterly charming, with adventure and wonder and emotional satisfaction and a real sense of warmth. We’ve been happy to point out some terrific comics for younger readers over the years, and it’s a pleasure to highly commend another one to you. This is a pleasure for youngsters and also for adults, or better still read it with your child or niece or nephew. It’s one they will happily get lost in and want to return to again.