Review: Nils: The Tree of Life HC
Mixing familiar mythology and sci-fi with beautiful art, Nils is a Norse dystopian fiction with some hints of Miyazaki-like fantasy that follows its characters through what it calls an ecological saga. As the core plot focuses on the mystery as to why the various lands are barren and unable to support life, the main character of Nils follows his father on a survey to learn more in the hopes of finding a solution before the coming winter. Along the way they are manipulated by gods, learn the mysteries of nature and life itself, and Nils himself becomes entwined with the fate of the worlds.
The story is very much focused on fleshing out its world and mythology, focusing more on those aspects then on the particulars of character development. While I wouldn't say that Jérôme Hamon's script neglects character development, it generally feels like it's operating more like an ancient epic where the adventure and quest are the focus and the protagonist is simply dropped into it. To that same degree other characters come and go, and while they all fill a role of some sort many of them fail to leave a lasting impression. Nils himself is generally a pawn throughout the story, and while he does have his moments he's still very much a vehicle for the reader.
Thankfully the character of Alba is a bit more dynamic, actively taking control of her own fate regardless of the ambiguous messages or silence from the gods. Beyond that, it's extremely uplifting to see a black female lead character in a Norse style fantasy epic. More of this, please.
The antagonists of the story, the Cyan Kingdom, feel like a boilerplate embodiment of man's greed and abuse of the natural world. They're the typical representation of that kind of fictional patriarchal enemy state, so you really won't remember much about them by the end of the book. The more interesting conflict comes from the trinity of gods that overlook the entire drama. They're as fallible as they are powerful, and in many cases as blind to the unfolding fate of the world as the pawns they manipulate.
The strongest measure of this story's strengths and creativity falls on Antoine Carrion's artwork. All of the design elements and lushly realized scenery make the entire world pop to life, his pacing and compositions creating engrossing pages that really draw the eye deeper into the fiction they're creating. There are a few odd narrational hiccups, and it's difficult to pinpoint if it's an issue between script and panel layout or something else. In some cases it feels like simply a jump in the overall storytelling that attempted to condense too much information too quickly. These issues, as well as a sparse handful of lettering mistakes and potential translation stiffness, sometimes interrupt the flow but not to any great consequence.
Carrion's art is just too damned beautiful to allow you to get hung up on any negligible issues.
This is published by Magnetic Press, so it's a pretty high quality hardcover package for the $30 price tag. It's a fairly dense read at 184 pages, and the 9″ x 12″ size compliments the grander vistas of Carrion's art. I will say that the text feels a bit tiny, but my eyes aren't great and I think I also just wanted to see the art blown up even bigger.
If you're in the mood for a a new fantasy read with interesting infusions of various myths and influences then you should give this a shot. If you're familiar with the high quality of Magnetic Press releases then this shouldn't let you down either. And if you're just looking for a beautiful art showcase? Definitely hunt this down.