Sunday, 26 December 2010


Bryan Talbot
Jonathan Cape
Grandville is set in a steampunk world, featuring steam powered motor vehicles, air transport, robots (known as "automatons"), telephones (known as "voicepipes") and televisions. In this world, Britain lost the Napoleonic War and was invaded by France. The British Royal Family were guillotined. Britain was later given independence from the French Empire following "a prolonged campaign of civil disobedience and anarchist bombings." Following independence, Britain became "The Socialist Republic of Britain". 23 years later, Britain is linked to the French Empire by the Channel railway bridge, and Paris is the biggest city in the world, known by the nickname of "Grandville". In Britain the English language is only spoken in rural communities, with the main language spoken in the country being French. The vast population in Grandville are anthropomorphic animals. Humans do exist, however. Having evolved in Angoulême, they are referred to by the French as "doughfaces", have never gained citizens' rights, and are considered menial workers. They are not allowed passports and so have never made it to Britain. The main characters in the series are Detective Inspector Archibald "Archie" LeBrock, a large, heavily-built badger; and his assistant Detective Roderick Ratzi, a monocle-wearing rat.

Brian Talbot has long been a favourite here. I'll get around to reviewing some of his related earlier work (the 2 Luther Arkwright books) at a later date. In the meantime here is the first of his series of anthropomorphic steampunk books - the very wonderful Grandville.

This first Grandville book concerns LeBrock and Ratzi's attempt to investigate the murder of a British diplomat. The investigation leads them to Grandville where they find themselves involved in a plot bigger than they could ever have imagined.

Anyone who has followed Talbot though the years will know that he is a consummate storyteller in both word and image. His plots are tight and plausible, his characters utterly human (or in this case, animal) and his illustrations perfectly paced and beautifully executed with a warmth to the art that radiates from the pages. The world of Grandville is sumptuously illustrated and beautifully reflects the opulence of the city with the world at it's feet. The technology is interwoven into both the storyworld and the narrative with seamless ease and in LeBrock and Ratzi we have two characters who are compulsive viewing. Ratzi in particular has become a firm favourite.

Even with all this going for it Grandville is a hard sell. Growing up reading comics funny animal books were always a particular dislike of mine and that view hasn't changed. Even knowing I would love what was inside it took me a small while to invest the necessary readies and take the plunge into it's covers. I'm certain I'm not the only one who shares this reticence for anthropomorphism. It is however a reticence that is worth putting aside (at least in the case of Grandville) as one soon forgets about the furry / scaly / hairyness of the participants and is swept along in the wake of a cracking whodunit.

Grandville really is something wonderful and worth both your time and your money.

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