Review: Alabaster by Caitlin Kiernan

So I was talking the other day about discovering new authors and new ideas in literature. Here's something very YA friendly, and honestly, if it were released by a major YA publisher, I can see this book doing very very well in the YA demographic. As is, Alabaster by Caitlin R Kiernan has a comic-book adaptation that is equally wonderful, but let me just take a moment to review the book.

Warning though: it was difficult to get my hands on this one.

TITLE: Alabaster
AUTHOR: Caitlin R Kiernan
COMIC-BOOK Artist: Steve Lieber, cover designed by Greg Ruth
RATING: 5 stars

GoodReads Summary:

An albino girl wanders the sun-scorched backroads of a south Georgia summer, following the bidding of an angel - or perhaps only voices in her head - searching out and slaying ancient monsters who have hidden themselves away in the lonely places of the world.

REVIEW (Please note that this is the review for the book, not the comic)

Dancy Flammarion is an albino girl with a big blade and an angel watching over her. Or is she? Is the angel only in her head, a fragment of an insane imagination? What about all the monsters that she has to face on lonely Southern roads and in the dark places that others don't see? Could that be her imagination too?

Caitlin R Kiernan creates an incredibly fascinating character in Dancy Flammarion. The concept is enthralling: a young girl, pink-eyed and white-skinned, wandering the lonely roads of America facing down monsters who are centuries old, sometimes incomprehensibly evil, all at the bidding of an angel who may or may not be good himself. Kiernan pulls no stops in describing the darkness of Dancy's world, or the extent to which magic worms through it.

Alabaster is actually a collection of five stories featuring the character, from her childhood in Wampee Creek, to her misadventures on the road. If the first story in the collection, Le Fleurs Des Empoisonnes ( "In the Garden of Poisoned Flowers") takes you from a dark highway to a bright house populated by ghoul women, Waycross and Alabaster feature monsters shacking up in derelict old lighthouses or the basements of gas-stores. The Well of Stars and Shadow, is about Dancy's childhood, while Bainbridge is slightly different from the others, skipping between Dancy taking on a monster a little too much for her to chew and two other timelines, one of which is reminiscent of dark faerie tales.

This kind of story-telling is quite effective, for the YA market at least, as it cuts down on the tedium of a novel with a beginning, middle and end. I love that these horrific creatures that Dancy faces don't exist in another dimension, and that Dancy does not exactly have any magic powers except for her knife. She's quite often at a disadvantage, only barely scraping out of the messes alive.

Dancy is also an insanely complex character. Why does she obey this angel? Exactly what happened to her mother? Is it, all of it, just in her head? All the monsters try to mess with Dancy's head, but the girl has some spunk. Here's a heroine who is both vulnerable, lonely, and desperate-- but beautiful and kickass at the same time.

The magic in Alabaster is also worth mentioning. There's bottled pain and creatures that ask riddles; ghouls that augur corpses and dead girls and vampires. There's Dancy's terrible, magnificent angel who never helps her. There's the ghost of her mother. There's Kiernan's writing, which is absolutely enchanting. There's lonely highways and boys with silver eyes and a panther in a cage.

If you can get a copy, read Alabaster. Or grab a copy of Dark Horse comics' version of it. Steve Lieber's art is absolutely wonderful.

*The first image used is actually the comic-book, while the black and white one represents the jacket of the hard/paperback collection.

Here are some links to reviews of Alabaster: Wolves:

Reading Graphic Novels's kinda-review
Comic Book Nerds Are Cute


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