Graphic novel: Lightfall (book 2) – Shadow of the Bird by Tim Probert

(courtesy Harper Collins Australia)

It makes your heart glad when you can return to a place and to characters you have come to love.

Picking up Lightfall 2: Shadow of the Bird was one of those moments you have when consuming any kind of pop culture where you feel like you are back in contact with a good friend, one who offers warmth and companionship, titanic battles between good and possible evil (the nuance in this tale is a joy) and the sense that life may be hard but there are moments of rare victory and hope amidst the crashing cymbals of doom.

Alas, there are no clashing cymbals of doom in Tim Probert’s exquisitely drawn graphic novel, but that is about the only thing you may regret because in just about every possible respect, it is a superlative story writ gloriously and lushly large with artwork so vibrantly alive that you honestly feel as if you can step into the panels.

Spoiler alert: you can’t BUT what you can do, and you will on just about every page, is sit back and gaze in rapturous wonder at how luxuriously, buoyantly beautiful the artwork is.

In some of the double spreads which are all action or introspection, and no dialogue, it can feel as if you’re gazing at a painting hung in the gallery, one rich not simply in extravagantly wonderful brushstrokes but in raw emotion, delight, happiness, pain and the thousand other things that make us human, and make the other characters well, whatever the hell they are.

Picking up the story from Lightfall 1: The Girl & The Galurian, in which Beatrice aka Bea (and her loyal cat Nimm) and Cadwallader meet, become close friends and solid adventurers in search of her lost grandfather, the Pig Wizard in a story that soon reveals there’s far more at stake than just one missing family member, Shadow of the Bird kicks into high gear almost immediately.

In this sequel, which stands head and shoulders with its predecessor with not a hint of follow-up story weariness to be had, Beatrice and Cadwallader, who still has to contend with just about remarking on the fact that Galurians are real and not a myth, are joined by Bea’s grandfather, his friend Madame Bunga, a nameless blue magical fellow and a thief in a grand quest to save the land of Irpa from Kest Ke Belenus, a fearsomely scary bird who is on a mission to devour all the light in the land.

With no sun to speak of, and once a land cloaked in perpetual darkness, Irpa is lit by giant fiery orbs that sit above its major cities, their light spilling into surrounding plains, seas and mountains, and providing a way for Irpa’s citizens who would other be at the mercy of remorselessly cruel shadow creatures.

(image courtesy Harper Collins (c) Bob Probert)

It’s a precarious existence, one resting entirely on orbs brought forth many eons ago, and so when Kest reawakens and begins consuming them – a marauding rampage foretold by the Arsai who paint a bleak vision of a future Irpa plunged back into inky dark – Bea, Cad and the others feel dutybound to do what they can do save the Lights of Irpa.

Their mission includes trying to ask Lorgon, one of the ancient spirits who made Irpa in the first place for help – as characters go, Lorgon is a hoot, a god-like being with a definite capriciously-delivered chip on their considerable shoulder – and evacuating two cities Lealand and Rinn and stopping Kest from consuming more and more of the Lights.

Open and shut case of good versus evil, right?

Not quite so fast! Turns out there’s more going on than simply Kest wanting to chomp down on some orbs, a substantial twist in the tale that gives so much added richness and compelling readability to Shadow of the Bird which cautions against taking anything at face value.

Of course, everyone does, despite Bea’s growing misgivings that they have it all wrong, and that the obvious assumptions are not truly reflective of what is actually going on, and as Shadow of the Bird ends we are left with a sage lesson in what can happen when you don’t have all the information or don’t fully act on what you do know.

This sublimely good graphic novel is, in so many ways, the kind of sophisticated, heartfelt storytelling you want from any fantasy novel, rich with solidly-realised, lovably flawed and earnest characters, artwork so colourfully and evocatively alive that you swear Irpa is part of our reality and must be just a plane ride away – if you get a dragon possibly; that can be arranged as it turns out – and stakes so high, and complicated, that sticking around to see how it all wraps up is non-negotiable.

Not that you think for even a nanosecond about bailing out early.

Shadow of the Bird is so emotionally resonant and so beautifully, affectingly and engagingly told that you tear the pages so fast you risk paper cuts; or you would turn them quickly, impelled to see what happens next, if you weren’t also luxuriating in the sheer lavish beauty of the artwork.

This is one for the ages, a story that enthralls with its grand narrative, its joyfully full and animated characters and a layered sensibility that knows life is never straightforward or obvious, even when an evil bird is threatening to take all your light away, and tells it tales with thrills and spills but also a rich, affecting humanity, the perfect marriage of art, action and emotional intimacy that will make you eager to return to Irpa just as soon as Probert can dream up his superlative adventure.

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