Review: Bitter Root – Graphic Novel

Bitter Root Vol 1, Cover

Cover by Sanford Greene

Bitter Root,
Vol. 1: Family Business 
(Bitter Root #1-5) 
by David F. WalkerChuck BrownSanford Greene (Contributor)

In terms of theme, the book is pretty simple: racism and hate make people into monsters.

The strength of this graphic novel lies in the relationships of the family members. Even though we are all acquainted with the drama and angst that familial issues cause, it doesn’t alter the fact that we are drawn to them, even for the same reason.

In this novel, the Sangeryes family has had its share of tragedy, even for a family whose business is to capture and purify (not kill) people who have been made into monsters by their hatred. Decreased in numbers, they are in the middle of dealing with an explosion of new cases when they’re confronted by a couple of new problems – portals from another dimension letting in more powerful true demonoid monsters and a transformed doctor (Sylvester) who, because of his own pain and loss, is trying to eliminate pain by eliminating the ones who cause it.

Set in Harlem a few years before the Renaissance flourished, the book jumps into action right away without time spent on the cultural and intellectual growth of that time and how it might be impacted by the racial hate that caused the killings of the Red Summer of 1919 in Harlem and the massacre that was the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. But those events are mentioned: the Sangeryes lost family during the Red Summer and the doctor-turned-monster lost his family to white vigilantes in Tulsa.

There’s much push and pull related to the characters trying to find their balance in such an environment. The Sangeryes continue to help others regardless of race, even as they argue about it amongst themselves. Doctor Sylvester starts out as somewhat admiring of the Sangeryes, but then becomes dismissive as his own hate grows to eclipse his desire to cure the new infection from the demons coming through from another dimension and causes him to decide to use it, instead.

There is despair as white policemen who know the true story, avoid speaking up out of fear, but there is also hope in a young white member of a KKK group becoming a follower of one of the Sangeryes.

The artwork is so good and the pacing is very quick, moving from one member of the family to another until the point where all of them converge in the streets of Harlem to find both a daunting challenge in Doctor Sylvester and the new – intelligent – demons, and renewed strength through family reunion.

I don’t know that I will continue with the series – I found the story to be less challenging than I like – but I enjoyed this book and consider the time on it spent well, if only for the reminders of our bloody history of racial hate and the ways people have of surmounting it and still flourishing.

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Bone Song by John Meaney

Bone Song (Tristopolis, #1)Bone Song by John Meaney

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m really glad I picked this one up. The mystery being investigated in the book is pretty standard fare, but the worldbuilding!

Meaney has created a society that runs on bones – all of the energy in Tristopolis comes from a necrofusion center where the bones of tortured souls are fuel. Bound spirits also exist in everything else: furniture, elevators, cars… you name it and there’s likely someone’s soul inhabiting it. As you might guess, some people treat those spirits better than others, like Detective Lieutenant Donal Riordan, who is friendly with the guy at HQ’s front desk – or rather the guy who is HQ’s front desk, the huge police wolves, the #7 elevator, and even zombies.

Riordan’s world is a dark one literally – the sky is always dark purple in his city – and figuratively – only the really wealthy are able to bury their dead in catacombs; everyone else is fuel. There’s the usual class divide and corruption, but now something new has been added: bone collectors. These people don’t want to wait until an artist or performer dies to bid on the memories their bones hold. Instead, they’ve created a conspiracy to kill them before their time and steal the bones.

In trying to stop them, Riordan will join a special task force headed up by a beautiful zombie, become friends with some of the most respected forensic bone listeners, and fight against powerful dark mages.

Bone Song is like Raymond Chandler was recreated using some genetic material from Brian Lumley and Tom Clancy. It’s fast moving, entertaining, and dark without noir’s usual cynicism.

I was so enthralled by the world Riordan lives in that I bought the sequel, Dark Blood the same night I finished reading Bone Song. Fascinating world, interesting characters.

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