This collection of three graphic novellas, two of them connected, ranges through a landscape of myth, allegory, and history. In the first story, “The Veiled Prophet,” a poor man becomes a mystic leader in the time of Caliph Harun al-Rashid of One Thousand and One Nights’s fame. After defeating a number of armies and pronouncing various prophecies, the Caliph battles the Veiled Prophet and makes a grim discovery about his true nature. The second and third stories are set in the 1400s during the religious wars of the followers of John Huss and the Catholic Church. In “The Armed Garden,” a blacksmith named Rohan has a vision and forms a sect called the Adamites. They don’t recognize personal property, laws or boundaries. After a bloody encounter with another sect, the Taborites, the Adamites discover Paradise but Jan Ziska, leader of the Taborites, continues to follow them and the story ends in a climactic battle. The final story, “The Drum Who Fell in Love,” starts with Ziska’s death. His followers force three craftsmen to make him into a drum and when he is played his spirit rises to lead his followers to war. However, he falls in love with a girl and the two struggle to escape the religious wars and enter Paradise.
The art is strongly reminiscent of medieval woodcuts, with flat, stylized figures and grotesque creatures interposed throughout the pictures. The landscapes and figures seem to flow into each other with things such as sword-bearing trees appearing to blend naturally into the landscape. The art is black and white with beige swathes representing blood, decay, skin tones, fur and earth. It was eye-catching, but most likely to appeal to readers who already have an interest in medieval art.
I found the stories interesting, but ultimately frustrating. Other than a very brief publisher’s note at the beginning of the book telling the reader that the stories are set in history and legend, there’s no context or background information. I’m familiar with the Arabian Nights and know a little about John Huss and the Taborites, medieval allegories, and religious beliefs, but only enough to make me feel like there was a lot going on that I didn’t understand. Some readers might find this a springboard to further research and reading on these topics. However, the average public library is unlikely to have an audience for this book. I would only recommend it to an academic library with students interested in medieval history and legend or a very large, urban public library that caters to a wide range of tastes and interests. This is also very definitely for adult audiences with frequent nudity (the Adamites are all naked throughout the story) and sometimes graphic depictions of sex and violence.
The Armed Garden and Other Stories
by David B