Darwin’s Diaries (Cinebook Review 1)

Darwin’s Diaries (ISBN 9781849180955)

The first book I’ve come to from the Cinebook stash has a hugely influential Englishman as it’s protagonist which, frankly, was a bit of a surprise.

The cover sets the tone nicely, depicting a top-hatted Charles Darwin still in his vigorous years, with his face caught between expressions of arrogant distaste and horrific realisation. The enormous shadow of a clawed hand is cast across his jacket and the whole is set against a background reminiscent of the colour of congealing blood.

This is not some dry biography you are about to open but a full blooded mystery set to confound the world’s greatest biologist.

Called to see the Prime Minister, Darwin is charged with the investigation into and capture of a creature that has terrorised and slain workers on a railroad in Yorkshire. He is to disprove the wild stories of The Clawed Ones – possibly linked to legends of wild men and werewolves.

If you have seen the french film Brotherhood Of The Wolf this will feel a little familiar – indeed, the real life Gevaudan tale is referenced overtly in the text (though thankfully there are no kung-fu indians here.)

As the story progresses there are hints of conspiracy and cults that may be at play behind the deaths, but the corpses are very real and something will have to be done.

In terms of story not a lot actually happens. After the opening incident you have to wait for over half the book before catching another sniff at the mysterious beast, but the writer (Sylvain Runberg) does an excellent job at moving things along in terms of character and world-building.

Darwin is not the bearded great Elder we are used to seeing but a vigorous man in his forties. We learn something of his homelife, his personality and his concern for his future reputation, and then he is swiftly moved to the scene of investigation.

The Victorian veneer is so much more fascinating when cracks appear in it and as the case unfolds we begin to see a darker side to Darwin’s nature which all adds to his magnetism as a main character.

Enough about the story, let’s move on to the visuals.

The artist (Eduardo Ocana) does an excellent job, producing page after page of consistently high quality artwork. There is nothing cartoonish or simplistic about the linework. His people are real, varying in build and facial structure. The posing is excellent in moments of comfort and tension and his facial expressions are able to convey at least as much about the character as their words (for all her set up as a goodie I don’t trust Suzanne Dickinson at all…)
His architecture and rural landscape have a verisimilitude that again raises the quality of the book above what I’m used to.

Panels are used to good effect, being regularly shaped when all is calm and fragmenting more in moments of crisis, giving urgency and movement to the captured moments.

For all that I am impressed with the pencilling it is the colourist who most visibly creates the brooding atmosphere of the piece. Tariq Bellaoui infuses each page with a subdued richness using naturalistic colours. Hats off particularly for his use of shadow which genuinely feels like a lack of light rather than the stage-like blacking off effect favoured by many comic-book artists.

My favourite panels are the orang-utans on page 8, the close up of the prostitutes face on page 43 and the image of Darwin about to punch ‘us’ on page 49 – each full of expression and emotionally evocative.

My only real criticisms of the book are as follows
1 The story is subtitled The Eye Of The Celts, but we only have two pages that relate to them and it is entirely unclear why (for now) and
2 The linework around the faces is sometimes a little too heavy, lacking perhaps a faith in the colourist to provided definition. The contrast between the soft colours and the hard lines can detract from the reality of the image.

These are small quibbles for an otherwise immaculate book.

More please!

4/5
GS Reviewer: Dion Winton-Polak
You can hear me blather about books on Scrolls, the podcast for literary fiction here on the Geek Syndicate Network.
Follow me on Twitter @Dion_Scrolls too if you like.

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