Bizenghast: The Novel
Story by Shawn Thorgersen, art by Alice LeGrow
When a young girl moves to the sleepy, forgotten town of Bizenghast, she uncovers a terrifying collection of lost souls that leads her to the brink of insanity…
Only Dinah can see the ghosts that inhabit her home, where she lives with her aunt after her parents’ tragic death. Dinah relies on Vincent, her sole friend, to rescue her from the clutches of the hauntings—and from the doctor who is determined to see her admitted to a mental hospital.
Out of the plethora of original-English-language (OEL) manga available in the United States, there are few that can rise to the top of the pack and become best-sellers. There’s Dramacon, Off*Beat, The Dreaming…and Bizenghast, possibly the biggest success story of them all. It’s spawned an iManga, an art book, and most recently, a light novel. Light novels are popular in Japan, and a few of them have made their way over to the U.S. It’s a small novel, with a few illustrations at various points in the story. Even if you’ve read the Bizenghast manga series, now in its fifth volume, a length that was unheard of prior to this series, and didn’t particularly like it (like me), try this book. It’s got a slightly different approach to some of the stories in the first volume, and delves deeper into the characters themselves. I was actually quite surprised with the high quality of the writing in this book, and I thought that the interspersed illustrations added to the aura that the writing created. Even the fanfiction at the back of the book, which takes place slightly further into the future than the rest of the novel, is well-done. This is a great package, and makes a welcome addition (or start) to your light novel collection.
This novel really shows the creeping terror that this gothic-style horror series is famous for. Even with few illustrations, a picture is painted with words that can inspire more fear than an entire book full of drawings. Dinah, the main character, lost her parents in “the sudden bursting of a tire” (i.e. a tragic car accident), and has lived with her Aunt Jane ever since. She fights off Dr. Morstan’s suggestion that she go to a mental institution, after she begins to have violent visions of ghosts. One day, when she is out exploring the forests of Bizenghast, she and Vincent (her best friend) discover a Sunken Mausoleum, home to lost souls waiting for redemption. Through an odd chain of events, Dinah becomes contractually bound into service to the Mausoleum. Her job? To free the souls who have been trapped here on Earth.
While I haven’t read much of the Bizenghast manga series lately, I believe that some of the stories in this novel are repeats from early chapters. One of the stand-outs is definitely the chapter about Hides and the Puritan-like villagers who “convict” Vincent and Dinah of witchcraft. This vignette takes place near the end of the novel, and Dinah had already been musing about what would happen if they were unable to free a spirit. I won’t reveal any details, but they come extremely close to never coming home again. The mortality and nigh-imminent doom of Dinah and Vincent couldn’t be more clear—around every corner, inside every vault, awaits another chance that they might not make it out alive.
If you are even barely familiar with the art of Bizenghast (heck, even if you just looked at the cover!), you can recognize the brooding gothic style that is now synonymous with this series. Alice LeGrow knows how to match story with fitting artwork, and the full-page illustrations that pepper the pages of this novel are awesome. I’m extremely happy that there was almost a ratio of one illustration per chapter (I love having an image to match to a story), but I’d have been tickled if there were more.
If you have any qualms whatsoever about topics like ghosts, death, or semi-gothic horror in general, this book may not be for you. However, there’s very little blood and gore, and descriptions of violence are few and far-between (they are there, though, so be cautious). I’d recommend this book to anyone aged 13 and up, since there’s actually no age rating on the book itself. If you think your under-13 child or audience can handle some creepy monsters, ghosts, and violence, then have at it! This would be a great jumping-off point for children who are addicted to comic books and manga, but are unwilling to try anything else. It’s well-written, engaging, and there are even a few illustrations. A perfect package, and one of the best light novels on the market.
Review made possible by a review copy provided by publisher.