Living in Stockholm in the middle of last century, Jeannie is seemingly content with a normal job as a waitress, but she’s quite aware that her life differs from others, living as she does with a talking cat and a protective house spirit (Domovoi).
Her story begins with the death of her grandmother Vasilisa, who, unbeknownst to Jeannie, was an accomplished sorcerer. Vasilisa’s successful theft of the bones from the great Bolshoi Korol in the Thrice-tenth kingdom, and their subsequent disappearance, was concealed from almost everyone until notice of Vasilia’s death appeared in the newspaper. Oral storytelling sessions, complete with asides from the storyteller, fill in the back-story for Jeannie about her Grandmother Vasilia, as well as the involvement of the Poleviki. Non-stop action, humour, fast-paced car chases, and meetings with supernatural spirits (both benign and malicious) quickly become the new norm for Jeannie and Bulka, the ageless cat. Jeannie’s life-threatening adventures gain her new allies when the Polevik become frustrated with new orders from Bolshoi Korol. Ultimately, however, she replicates the original journey taken by her grandmother to discover the truth.
Bergting’s text and moody illustrations effectively incorporate and reinterpret the eclectic nature of the numerous supernatural characters populating the plot. Although set at the outset in the illustrator’s home country of Sweden, the story moves into a fantasy realm populated with night creatures from Slavic mythology and folklore. The text sporadically reveals the information about some of these familiar and unfamiliar personnel. Long after they first appear in the storyline, the folkloric nature of the Poleviki is clarified for the reader. In a memory sequence told to Jeannie by the Poleviki, they relate a conversation with a gamayun: “Then what are you doing here, field spirits? Killers.” (n.p.) Ironically, the gagayun, while identified as such in the dialogue, is illustrated as a human male figure with the head of a large bird. This prophetic bird of Russian folklore is usually depicted as a large bird with a woman’s head. The Sudice, the “Fates” of Slavic mythology, are accurately portrayed as spirits of judgement that mete out fortune, destiny, and judgement. They are referred to as “The Fury” by Bulka the talking cat.
Bergting also introduces creatures that may be created from his imagination such as the Topielek, “an angry spirit that drowns people and uses them as servants,” which he explained when it first appears in the story. Ironically, the traditional aspects of the even more malevolent but perhaps well-known Rusulka, referenced in the very next panel, are not addressed in the text, although her subsequent action sequence continues for several panels. One of the greatest pleasures for this reviewer was the continuous discovery of yet another supernatural character in both the mundane world and that of the other and the way that Bergting has them all behave according to their traditional nature. My secondary pleasure is his contemporary adaptation of them to make his story work seamlessly and successfully.
Bergting’s art work is frequently reminiscent of that of the Hellboy series, particularly in his depiction of the dark characters from folklore. His use of panel layout and his uncluttered backgrounds in the panels effectively and swiftly move the reader through the adventure, pausing for dramatic facial and gestural reactions of the characters, before joining the chase once again. His use of colour is breathtaking, especially as most of the action takes place at night or in the transition period between night and day. The palate of greys, greens, rust, and blues tinged with echoes of golds and yellow evokes the dusky light of that transitory time and are contrasted with the two major daytime journeys undertaken by Vasilisa and her granddaughter.
Besides, you have to love a house with its own extensive reference library!
by Peter Bergting
Dark Horse, 2013
Publisher Age Rating: 12+