“Across the white immensity of an eternal winter, from one end of the frozen planet to the other, there travels a train that never stops” (p. 3).
And so the first volume of Snowpiercer opens, like a macabre picture book. Slowly revealing mysterious clues along the way, the reader begins to understand that sometime in the future an environmental catastrophe (possibly set off by war and bombs) killed the sun and plunged the Earth into another Ice Age. Out in the elements, people can freeze to death in mere seconds. Luckily for some, a newfangled train, the Snowpiercer, was in construction at the time of the event—a luxury train that could travel extremely long distances without ever needing to stop to refuel. The remains of humanity now occupy the train’s 1,001 cars.
Our story opens when Proloff, an escapee from the lower-class rear of the train, is captured by the military-like personnel in charge and quarantined. He meets Adeline, a middle-class citizen who is part of a resistance group lobbying to allow the dwellers of the rear train to move from their overcrowded quarters to the better conditions of the front cars. Adeline, hearing that a rear passenger managed to make his way up front, wants to speak with Proloff about how he did it and possibly use him as a figurehead for her cause, but she just winds up in quarantine with him herself. After a few days (in which they begin to fall in love), they are taken to meet Colonel Krimson. Their journey through the cars takes days and Proloff and Adeline are shocked to discover the contents of the upper-class cars as they see certain luxuries they first thought were long extinct.
Krimson tells the duo that Snowpiercer is beginning to slow down. He wants to start the process of moving the lower-class passengers to the front of the car so they can disconnect those cars and lose some heavy weight. With Adeline left to go off and tell members of her movement the good news, Proloff discovers the Colonel’s treachery—he is going to kill Proloff and disconnect the cars anyway with all those annoying troublemakers aboard. As Proloff struggles to reach Adeline and warn others of their impending doom, he discovers that there are a lot more secrets hidden aboard the Snowpiercer and the fate of humankind might now rest in his hands.
Originally published in French as Le Transperceneige in 1982, this story seems fit for the current popularity of dystopian worlds in both fiction and graphic novels. The hardcover book is slightly oversized and features glossy pages with crisp black and white illustrations. The illustrations do a good job expressing the bleakness of the world in which humanity’s survivors now find themselves. This is a great choice for those who enjoy stories of futuristic worlds gone awry which showcase strong heroes who don’t always see happy endings (such as V for Vendetta). The story of Snowpiercer was continued in 1999 and 2000 by Benjamin Legrand (Jacques Lob died in 1990) and Jean-Marc Rochette in two volumes entitled The Explorers and The Crossing, which were released by Titan Books as the companion volume to this title.
While this is a story that will greatly appeal to teens and adults alike, there are a few elements that might spark controversy. The tale is bleak and depressing—nothing happy happens. Some parents who like to protect their children from the harsher parts of the world might not appreciate the overall tone of the book. However, I know many teens who want to see more stories they can enjoy that don’t have all the conflicts wrapped up in a happily ever after ending within the last ten pages of a book. This book will get teens invested in the story and get them thinking.
There are also occurrences of language, violence, and nudity in the story. The people of the upper-class call the people in the rear of the train “tail-fuckers” and have no regard for their quality of life. When Proloff is captured boarding the cars in the middle of the train, he is roughed up a bit. There is death—while not violent per se (the person freezes), it is disturbing and sad at the same time. Nudity appears when Proloff and Adeline are traveling to the upper cars and see that rich men enjoy spending time doing the only thing they can to kill time—have sex with prostitutes in a brothel-like car. Proloff and Adeline also have sex at one point in the book.
Overall, while there may be a few elements of the graphic novel that some might find objectionable, the story trumps it all. It is bleak, heart-wrenching, and philosophical all at once. I would recommend it for purchase in either adult or teen collections and recommend it to readers who enjoy books that will make them uncomfortable and get them thinking about the world here and now and where we are headed.
Snowpiercer, vol. 1: The Escape
by Jacques Lob
Art by Jean-Marc Rochette
Titan Books, 2014
Publisher Age Rating: 16+