Geis: Book One, A Matter of Life and Death by Alexis Deacon, 96 pp, RL 4
My Favorite Graphic Novel of 2016
This summer, I discovered that Alexis Deacon, picture book illustrator, author and frequent collaborator with another favorite of mine, Viviane Schwarz, had created Geis, a graphic novel that was already on sale in the UK. I waited patiently for it to go on sale here and, when I finally got to read Geis, I was surprised, enthralled and left breathless by the beauty of the illustrations, the rich world building and the fast pace of the story. I was so sad to read the end of Geis, but, I realized half way into it that it is a trilogy, so there is more to come!
Geis begins with a definition of the word "geis," pronounced "gesh," which is a Gaelic word for a taboo or curse, "like a spell that cannot be broken and certain rules must be obeyed." In an unnamed world that is reminiscent of a Bruegel painting, the Great Chief Matarka is dying without leaving an heir. Fifty people, including the Grand Wizard, the High Priest, the Chief Judge and the Lord Chamberlain have been called to her death bed. Among them is Io, the young daughter of the Kite Lord. Matarka has devised a contest that will determine who will take her place, but Niope, an evil sorceress, using Death Magic, has taken control of the event and tricked the fifty attendees into signing their names to a cursed parchment.
The fifty attendees are hurtled to various corners of the realm by the sorceress and must return to the death chamber to prove their worthiness. Io is the first to return where she learns the horrible truth of the geis from the sorceress. Nemas is next and together, the two know the truth of the challenge the fifty souls face but are not allowed to speak of it. When they do, the curse renders them speechless. They learn that they have until the next sunrise to leave the castle and return for a challenge that will leave all but one of them dead. As Io and Nemas prepare for this battle, we see others facing their fates, some of which are horrific, with bravery and cowardice, together and alone.
Geis is over almost as soon as it starts, yet you reach the final page of this graphic novel feeling like you have been gone for much longer. This is in large part due to Deacon's amazing illustrations and masterful world building. I was reminded immediately of the work of Maurice Sendak, some of which I have shared below. Io proves to be a young but brave and moral hero, struggling to survive in a world that no longer makes sense. I can't wait to see how she faces her next challenge!