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Review: Voyages in the Underworld of Orpheus Black - Marcus&Julian Sedgwick


Genre: Poetry, Historical

Published: Candlewick Press, August 2019

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

ARC provided by publisher.

”Hell is different for everyone. And everyone finds their own way in. This was another thing I learned as the years turned, as the leaves burned, as water dries up, as the ground roasted, as trees died, as time and time again, I made my way to the Underworld.”

Part poetry, part graphic novel, centered around a retelling of the Ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, featuring brothers instead of lovers, all set against the backdrop of World War II.

When I heard that description, I was already sold. Greek myth retellings are my kryptonite and seeing one transported to a second world-war setting sounded like a story I could not pass up. Many thanks again to Candlewick Press for providing me with the ARC, in exchange for an honest review. Unfortunately, as much as I loved what the authors were trying to do with this novel, I was left with mixed feelings in the end.

Voyages in the Underworld of Orpheus Black is takes place mostly from the perspective of Harry, a man who wakes up, wounded and disoriented, in a hospital after surviving a bombing, only to receive the news that his brother has been killed in action. Maddened with grief and posttraumatic delirium, he embarks on a fever dream-like journey, to retrieve his brother from the Underworld.

The style of the novel (for better or for worse) resembles the protagonists muddled state of mind, as throughout most of it I had not a single clue what was going on. Although it matches the story conceptually, I don’t think it does much favor to the reading experience in this case. Throughout the entire book I had to work quite hard to remain engaged and understand what I was reading, which I don’t mind as long as there is a good payoff in the end. That pay-off was missing a little for me. It needs to be said that this had some brilliant passages and stunning art work. The cover illustration represents the art style quite well, and I can only tip my head to the illustrator for their beautiful work. Some of the panels by themselves were at a 4 to 5 star level, even if not all of them were finished in the ARC version yet. In the end however, as a whole, I felt like this book may have been the victim of its own ambition. Both we as readers, as well as the authors seemingly had to put in very hard work to make this work. I loved what Voyages in the Underworld of Orpheus Black sets out to do, and I think in parts it even succeeds, but it lacks the fluency and flow of a novel that is seemingly written with ease (and will therefore read as such).

This has been my third novel by Markus Sedgwick that has disappointed me recently. I always love his concepts, but I always feel his stories get lost in their ambition somewhere along the way. Maybe it’s just his writing and my taste that don’t align to well. If you enjoyed his other works, I can see how this might be a great read for you. For me, it ended up somewhere in the middle with on a 2.5 star rating.


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