Monday, December 21, 2015

Sharaz-De: Tales from the Arabian Nights - Sergio Toppi

Sharaz-De: Tales from the Arabian NightsLet me start by saying this: Scheherazade is one of my favorite fairytales.  For those of you who don't know (and many don't; this one isn't as popular as the likes of Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty) Scheherazade is the teller of the 1,001 Arabian Nights.  The term "1,001 Arabian Nights" itself comes from her story.  Here is (briefly) how it goes: One upon a time, the king of a middle-eastern kingdom found out his wife had been unfaithful to him.  He had her killed, and then decided to marry a new virgin every day and have her beheaded the next morning.  He did this to 1,000 women before Scheherazade, his vizier's daughter, volunteers to be the next bride.  Now, Scheherazade was a bit of a bookworm and an excellent storyteller.  The night of her marriage, she asked the king to let her say goodbye to her sister.  He agreed, and Scheherazade went into the next room to say her farewells.  But instead of saying goodbye, she began to tell her sister a story.  She didn't finish the story, but instead stopped partway through as dawn approached, leaving a cliffhanger.  The king, who'd been listening in on this conversation, decided to let Scheherazade live another day so that she could finish the story the next night, and he could know the ending.  The next night, she finished the first story and began a second, which she also left unfinished, and the king repeated his delaying of Scheherazade's execution.  This went on for a total of 1,0001 nights and 1,001 stories, at the end of which the king had fallen so madly in love with Scheherazade that he decided not to have her beheaded at all, and she gets to live on as his queen.

Sharaz-de doesn't follow this story.  The title obviously refers to Scheherazade, but she's only a minor character in this and the other stories don't even bolster her own.  The backstory is the same: king finds out wife is cheating, kills her, decides to do the same to a bunch of other women.  But in this version, Sharaz-de is from another country entirely.  She tells a story at night, finishes it, and then tells a second one--and finishes that one, too.  The king lets her live because he wants to hear more stories, so she goes on.  And the book just ends this way.  She tells a bunch of stories, but the resolution of him falling in love with her and letting her live is never actually reached.  It just, apparently, goes on forever.  The stories themselves are beautifully depicted, and full of people who do bad things getting what's coming to them from supernatural sources, but ultimately I felt jipped out of the story I thought I was getting.  The Scheherazade structure doesn't work in this book because the story isn't actually there; I feel like Toppi would have done better to nix that storyline all together and just depict the stories themselves, without revealing Scheherazade/Sharaz-de as the narrator, and simply titling it "Tales from the Arabian Nights."  It is tales, but the larger narrative structure is missing, which leaves the book somewhat lacking.

The art is beautiful and complex, whether it's in black-and-white or in color, but I'm not a huge fan of graphic novels in general, so finding that the story I'd hoped for and been led to expect by the title and initial set-up was just abandoned was highly disappointing.  At least I got my Popsugar Reading Challenge category of "A graphic novel" out of the way.

2.5 stars out of 5.

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