CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 38. . . . June 1, 2018
The opening pages of the graphic novel Hope depict a landscape of death: corpses lie everywhere, looters take whatever they can, and all is brutish and ugly, save for a beautiful young woman with white-blond hair. Ethereally pale and barely clothed, but for a placenta-like, blood-red wrap, is Hope. Accompanied by Merritt and a woman named Grace, Hope is frightened and confused. Monstrous creatures surround the three like a thicket of evil, and Merritt wields his sword, but it’s not quite enough. Hope draws herself up tall, and emits “a sound that few can hear, but all can feel.” The pureness of her song repels the monsters, and after passing through the town, the three find a friendly caravan driver and hitch a ride, escaping the ruin behind them.
With Hope resting in the comfort of the caravan, Grace and Merritt ride through the countryside, and Merritt tells Grace something of his past. His mother said that he has “a special magic” inside him; a strong and sturdy young boy, he is a good swordsman, but has a kind heart, and is rather simple in nature and though. The idyll of his childhood is shattered one day when he and his father return home to discover his mother gone. They find her tied to a stake in the marketplace, about to be burned alive, allegedly because of witchery. The real witch is the queen of the realm, Shame, who is incredibly beautiful and equally evil.
Years pass. With his father dead in a battle, Merritt wanders until one day he finds a beautiful woman named Virtue trapped in a prison created by Shame. Shame has a pack of monsters at her command, and soon they capture Virtue and Merritt is overcome. He wakes up in Shame’s castle where she nurses him back to health, “like an angel”, telling him that “she had not done the bad things.” Credulous, he believes her, and she readily seduces him. As he recounts the story to Grace, Merritt is overcome by guilt at having been duped by Shame, soon learning that Grace has also been one of Shame’s victims. Like Merritt’s mother, Grace was once beautiful and keenly aware that Shame was evil: “the little jade had just slithered into the old King’s pants. She had just begun her purge of her competition.” Along with some other women, Grace plots Shame’s downfall, and has friends amongst those who would rebel against the Queen. At the next Imperial Burning, just as another beautiful woman is about to be immolated, the rebels mount their assault.
However, their swords are no match for Shame and her shadows who spirit Grace into the air and then, into the forest. As Grace falls through the trees which tear at her face, her former beauty is scarred forever, although her spirit remains virtuous. As Grace and Merritt talk, Hope tosses and turns in restless sleep. Her mind is drawn to a place called Cradle, “a dark dangerous nidus of evil . . ., the scar left in the soul of the Earth where Shame opened a doorway to Hell.” It is through this doorway that monstrous beings escape to prey upon the good, and, in the midst of a vision of evil creatures roaming and pillaging, Hope awakes, terrified. Grace comforts Hope, assuring her that she is safe and telling Merritt that Hope’s vision of evil may be nothing more than confusion. Once the three arrive at Grace’s cottage, Hope is put to bed, and then, Grace prepares to look into her scrying bowl and to attempt to see what nefarious plot Shame is hatching.
As the images come into focus, Merritt and Grace see a trio of witches who literally unleash the powers of hell. The gate to the underworld has been unlatched, and, as the vision in the scrying bowl continues to unfold, the claws of evil reach out of the bowl, grasping at the two mortals. Merritt strikes the bowl with his sword, and the shadows retreat. Now, it is clear to Grace and Merritt that they have a mission: they must secure the portal to hell and stop “those infernal emanations. . . They may be strong but [Grace and Merritt] have Hope on [their] side.” Maybe, but the final page shows a bleak frozen corner of a bottomless pit, and floating in a foul-looking swamp is the livid face of a woman, surrounded by maggots. And Shame gets the final word: “words of power, strong with darkest hatred, that will never pass away. I, Shame, will stand on ev’ry promise of my word. For our covenant is sure and on this I am secure … I, Shame can stand on ev’ry promise of my word.” It seems that yet another epic battle looms.
Hope is “a new story from the world of Shame”, and after my first reading of the book, I went to my local public library to get the other three volumes from the Shame series. Although Hope is meant as a stand-alone work, I needed to read the other books in the series in order to have the backstory and make sense of the characters and the situations that brought Hope (the character) into being. The names of the characters are more than a bit allegorical, and it’s clear as to who is good and who is evil. Bolton’s illustrations are amazing, transitioning between the rusticity of the townspeople, to the extraordinary beauty of both the child-woman Hope and the viciously evil Shame. Shame is an absolute vixen and revels in her dominatrix-style costumes. Hope, as befits a newly-born being, wears very little throughout much of the story, but her nakedness is natural rather than a deliberate temptation, as is the case with Shame. As for the monsters, shades and shadows –Bolton makes them truly threatening, thoroughly frightening and absolutely evil.
I think that Hope is a book for fans of graphic novels who enjoy the fantasy genre. Would it appeal to female readers? I don’t know, but I am pretty certain that guys would enjoy the gore of the fight scenes, not to mention Shame’s sexy costumes and Hope’s luminous beauty. This is a story in which it’s obvious who is on the side of good and who is not, but it is sophisticated in its telling and not for an unskilled reader. If you acquire it for your high school library’s graphic novel collection, read it first. It would be wise to have a rationale prepared for potential challenge because there’s bound to be a staff member, parent, or even a student who will see some of the drawings, beautifully rendered though they may be, as bordering on soft-core porn.
Joanne Peters, a retired teacher-librarian, lives in Winnipeg, MB (Treaty 1 Territory and homeland of the Métis Nation).