77-coverWracked with violence since its birth, the world of Carnel evolved when new breeds of familiar animals–lions and buffalo to name a couple–became bipedal, intelligent, and overthrew the human race. In Africa, after years of war, the lions have achieved an uneasy truce with the barbaric hyenas and powerful buffalo. But now, the lions are weak, their prides scattered and hungry, while the hyenas are plotting something big. The lions need a hero, or their species may go the way of the humans.

One pride had such a hero: the giant lion, Oron. Unfortunately, he and his sisters have not returned from a mission to hyena territory. Then, word reaches the pride that Oron has been captured by hyenas. The pride sends three of their own; Omi, the archer lioness and two young warrior brothers to find Oron, while those at home try to rally the scattered prides for battle. But in this small pride, connections and grudges are everywhere and ambition runs wild. It may not be the hyenas who bring destruction on the lions. They might just do it themselves.

This book–volume one in a planned series–is not a graphic novel so much as an illustrated novella. Paragraphs or pages of prose are interspersed with detailed images of characters and scenes. There are no panels or speech bubbles. The art has a lush, painted style well represented by the book’s cover.

The writing is detailed, with much description of characters and setting. Some of this description seems unnecessary, given that the characters and settings are often shown in illustrations. Several characters’ points of view appear, and we get frequent flashbacks. The stakes are high, and the writing is appropriately dramatic, full of betrayal, grief, fury, and action.

Indeed, the writing can come across as melodramatic, and tends toward telling rather than showing. Because it is so short, the story seems sometimes to be reaching for an emotional impact it hasn’t built up to. For example, after Oron’s capture, we see one or two brief scenes in which he is beaten by a whip-wielding hyena. Later, the two face off in what is clearly supposed to be an epic vengeance-fueled fight scene. While the choreography of the fight is cool, it’s hard to feel fist-pumping satisfaction at the over-the-top beatdown of an enemy we’ve barely seen. Still, despite its brevity, the story packs some emotional surprises.

The art reflects a little of the gruesome violence described in the story, but most of the illustrations show quieter scenes, focusing on what a character or setting looks like rather than on the action taking place. The illustrations include no sexual content, and the text has none beyond the barest mentions of the choosing of mates.

Carnal is a grim, violent world and this is a grim, violent book. Even among the lions, our protagonists, we have characters who are brutal, cruel, arrogant, and untrustworthy (and, as a bonus, sexist). The battles, schemes, and strategies make this animal-populated world read somewhat like a darker, richly-illustrated version of the Redwall series by Brian Jacques, and readers of that series may also enjoy the Carnal books.

Carnal: Pride of the Lions, vol. #1
by John Connell, Jason Bergenstock
ISBN: 9780985769109
Sea Lion Books, 2012

  • Nic

    | She/Her Youth Services Librarian, Wake County Public Libraries

    Reviewer

    The child of two artists, Nic grew up loving art, reading, and those oh-so-special books that combine the two. Nic got her MLS from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her thesis was on the best shelving scheme for graphic novels in public libraries; the proposal won an Elfreda Chatman Research Award. She spends her free time reading, drawing, blogging, and writing fiction. She is a Youth Services Librarian at the Wake County Public Libraries in Raleigh, NC.

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