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Wednesday, 2 February 2011

In Review: Long John Silver - Lady Vivian Hastings

Long John Silver is yet another new bandes dessinee series to be translated into English for the first time by Cinebook. Written by Xavier Dorison and illustrated by Mathieu Lauffray, it is described not as a sequel to Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island but as an homage to it set some 20 years after the return of the Hispaniola to England at the end of the novel.

Lord Byron Hastings has been so fascinated by the legend of the El Dorado-like lost city of Guiana-Capac that he has spent the last three years in the Americas attempting to find it. Meanwhile back in England his wife, Lady Vivian, has been enjoying herself so much that she is now penniless, pregnant and attempting to lure one of her rich lovers into marrying her after she has had her husband declared dead. Before she can succeed in this her brother-in-law, Captain Edward Hastings, arrives with word from her husband that he has found the lost city and for Edward to sell his entire assets and finance an expedition to come and get him. Edward's intention is to send Lady Vivian, whom he does not approve of, to a convent while he sails to the Americas but she out manoeuvres him to join the expedition and, knowing that she needs allies on board ship, hires John Silver and his crew to work for her.

Treasure Island was one of those books that, for me, was a school reading text, the over analysis of which was normally more than enough to put me off any of those books for life. However I also had a copy of the early 1970s Collins storybook of the novel with gorgeous painted illustrations by Ron Embleton which helped me retain a love of the book despite having to discuss the story in class every week. (My English teacher must be chuckling in his grave that I freely choose to do now what I hated to do back then.)

This first book in the series, as the title would suggest, is very much Lady Vivian's story establishing her as a head strong but wily character. Rather than dropping us headlong into the story Dorison builds his plot nicely, establishing each character and their motivations before moving on to the next and finally leading us to Long John himself. The suggestion here is that few of the characters in the book are going to be straightforwardly good or bad with virtually everyone having their own secret agenda as their ship, the Neptune, sets sail for the New World.

In contrast to the smoothness of Ron Embleton's art in that Collins storybook, Lauffrey's style is more sketchy but this is to the benefit of the story as it quickly moves from the classy surroundings of the Hastings' grand home to the darkness and danger of Silver's inn. Indeed his take on Silver could be described as a peg legged Wolverine, without the claws but just as dangerous, as the body count once he is introduced would suggest. While the cover painting is perhaps a little too moody to be striking, the fact that the book is published full BD size rather than the US size that Cinebook use for some of their other more mature adventure titles allows you to appreciate Lauffrey's art better.

Long John Silver - Lady Vivian Hastings sets the scene well for the ongoing adventures of literature's best known pirate and I look forward to seeing more of the books in the series translated soon.

There are more details of the Long John Silver series on the Cinebook website and the second book Neptune is due to be published in March 2011.

There are more details of the original French language versions of Long John Silver on the Dargaud website (in French).

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