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Voyages in the Underworld of Orpheus Black
Cover of Voyages in the Underworld of Orpheus Black
Voyages in the Underworld of Orpheus Black
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Harry Black is lost between the world of war and the land of myth in this illustrated novel that transports the tale of Orpheus to World War II–era London. Brothers Marcus and Julian Sedgwick...
Harry Black is lost between the world of war and the land of myth in this illustrated novel that transports the tale of Orpheus to World War II–era London. Brothers Marcus and Julian Sedgwick...
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  • Harry Black is lost between the world of war and the land of myth in this illustrated novel that transports the tale of Orpheus to World War II–era London.

    Brothers Marcus and Julian Sedgwick team up to pen this haunting tale of another pair of brothers, caught between life and death in World War II. Harry Black, a conscientious objector, artist, and firefighter battling the blazes of German bombing in London in 1944, wakes in the hospital to news that his soldier brother, Ellis, has been killed. In the delirium of his wounded state, Harry's mind begins to blur the distinctions between the reality of war-torn London, the fiction of his unpublished sci-fi novel, and the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Driven by visions of Ellis still alive and a sense of poetic inevitability, Harry sets off on a search for his brother that will lead him deep into the city's Underworld. With otherworldly paintings by Alexis Deacon depicting Harry's surreal descent further into the depths of hell, this eerily beautiful blend of prose, verse, and illustration delves into love, loyalty, and the unbreakable bonds of brotherhood as it builds to a fierce indictment of mechanized warfare.

Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    June 10, 2019
    Set in WWII London, as German bombings disrupt and destroy life, this ambitious novel from the Sedgwick brothers (Dark Satanic Mills) alternates between two voices: that of the mythical Greek musician Orpheus, and that of Briton Harry Black, a conscientious objector, firefighter, and artist. Just after Harry meets with his disapproving older brother, Ellis, at the White Horse pub, it’s hit by a bomb. The blast lands Harry in the hospital with a severe head wound that gives him the ability to vaguely intuit Orpheus’s voice. Delirious from his injury and certain that Ellis lives, Harry escapes the hospital to find him, accompanied by another patient, a 14-year-old German-Jewish girl who is searching for her parents. After roaming the city, the two finally reach the remains of the pub, where they descend underground to look for all parties. In spite of Harry’s professed urgency, Orpheus’s lengthy poetic interludes slow the action, and Harry’s unreliable narration often creates confusion about the plot. Shadowy, foreboding illustrations by Deacon (I Am Henry Finch) enhance the ominous mood but don’t otherwise extend the story. While the juxtaposition of the myth of Orpheus with the tragedy of WWII is uneven, the book’s antiwar message resounds strongly. Ages 12–up.

  • Kirkus

    June 1, 2019
    An injured firefighter records eerie experiences as he searches for his brother during the London Blitz. Following an earnest effort to restore sibling bonds sundered by his decision to register as a conscientious objector, Harry Black leaves his enlisted older brother, Ellis, in a pub that takes a direct hit only minutes later from a V-2. Waking up with head injuries, Harry woozily escapes the hospital to undertake the seemingly hopeless task of digging into the wreckage after his brother--describing his frantic efforts in disjointed notebook entries around prescient visions of future wars fought by machines that he illustrates with nightmarish views of hanging bodies and armies of shrouded figures in hazmat suits. Along with lurid details (notably a pocket full of glass eyes that Harry snatches from a warehouse fire which appear throughout as spot art) the authors, brothers themselves, add a mythic overlay by interspersing extended verse (occasionally rhymed) comments by Orpheus as observer and psychopomp and extending Harry's quest into a dangerous, jumbled underworld that has its own king and pomegranate-eating queen. The attempt to shovel on another layer of significance by trotting in an otherworldly Kindertransport child and positioning her as symbolic of both true peace and a gender complement is ill conceived. Still, unlike his lyre-strumming alter ego, Harry does in the end bring off a rescue...albeit at a cost. Atmospheric and provocative but hampered by a cacophony of messages. (Historical fantasy. 14-17)

    COPYRIGHT(2019) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • School Library Journal

    August 1, 2019

    Gr 9 Up-Harry Black, a young firefighter in World War II-era Britain, is at odds with his family. Harry's father is a weapons manufacturer. Disgusted by his family's complicity, Harry registers as a conscientious objector. One fateful night, Harry is gravely injured in the blastback from a V2 rocket that hits a pub he has recently left-a pub where his beloved brother, Ellis, was lingering after the siblings argued. Harry, an artist and sensitive soul, had been journaling about this attempted reconciliation and after the V2 hits, this journal becomes a record of his laborious search for his brother, whom he believes has somehow survived the rocket's devastating blow. Alternating between Harry's drawing-laden journal entries and poems "sung" to the reader by Orpheus, storied psychopomp of Greek mythology, the novel's theme is obvious from the jump: war is hell. Harry's memories of his adventures, juxtaposed with Orpheus's poetic renderings, create a dreamlike quality with a Pan's Labyrinth-ian feel. The marriage of fantastical elements with the atrocities of war is not new, nor is World War II an unexplored literary topic, but this triptych treatment is interesting. The message could have been delivered with a lighter touch, but readers who enjoy their war stories steeped in philosophy will walk away satisfied. VERDICT A recommended purchase. Hand to fans of Markus Zusak's The Book Thief and even Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five.-Abby Bussen, Muskego Public Library, WI

    Copyright 2019 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from June 1, 2019
    Grades 9-12 *Starred Review* A Blitz-ravaged London meets the underworld of Greek mythology in this remarkable literary m�lange from Printz winner Marcus Sedgwick and his brother, Julian. When a German bomb levels the pub where 19-year-old Harry and his brother, Ellis, have just reconciled, Harry survives with a blow to the head, but Ellis is lost in the wreckage. Against doctor's orders, Harry returns to the bomb site in search of his brother, thus beginning his descent into a twentieth-century hellscape of rubble, bunkers, and tunnels. As Harry's grasp of reality dissolves into hallucination, and the London Underground blurs into the mythic underworld, the novel shifts between Harry's epistolary accounts and the free-verse narration of the poet Orpheus, further intercut by Deacon's black-and-white paintings of a dystopian cyberpunk nightmare. Astonishingly, it works. The reader is so transported into Harry's fever dream that the muddling delusions become a shared experience. It's a confusion that enhances rather than detracts, thanks to the elucidating Orpheus, whose accessible poetry keeps the truth in plain view. Despite its complex crafting, the story never feels overwrought. It flows, grounded in character and the theme of preserving humanity from the machines of war. Even as Harry emerges from the abyss, a satisfying conclusion leads the reader from the darkness, delivering an emotional gut punch that will provoke as much feeling as thought.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2019, American Library Association.)

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