Graphic novel review: Gert and the Sacred Stones by Marco Rocchi and Francesca Carità

(cover image courtesy Penguin Books Australia)

Diving into a fully-realised fantasy world is one of life’s great inestimable pleasures.

No matter where you are or what you are doing, escaping into a world such as the one exquisitely and immersively well-realised as the one in Gert and the Sacred Stones by the Italian team writer Marco Rocchi and artist Francesca Carità (with translation courtesy of Jamie Richards) is a joy without boundaries.

Here, even in its fallen, fog-filled state is a place where life endures, love carries on somehow, and integrity and virtue somehow triumph over impossible, morally dubious odds, and where we can be sure that justice will be done and right will prevail.

To get to that point, of course, we need the plucky tenacity of Gert, a young girl whose is forced by a traumatic event to tackle the effects of the great evil that has befallen her land, plunging it into a foggy morass through which rage-filled beasts prowl, and humanity has become murderously warrior-fixated and the magical creatures known as the Molkhog spent their waking hours gathering the magical stones, at great peril to themselves, that are needed to banish Kemon the God of the Beasts.

Gert isn’t looking to be a hero necessarily, but she is her mother’s daughter and her mother Bia has committed her life, quite against the edicts and teachings of her village, to taking a different approach to murder and violence in the hope that the great scar laying across their land can be removed, or at least ameliorated, by other means.

Such a divergent approach is pilloried by the powers that be, namely Gert’s hardline uncle who is the village chief, who can see no other way but the way Things Have Always Been Done.

There is no room for out-of-the-box thinking in Gert’s stranglingly-small world, something that becomes brutally apparent when events conspire to send Gert on a grand, unexpected adventure with her new best friend Atheis – though it does take even relatively open-minded Gert some time to reach the point where she can see Molkhog as possible friends – that takes her to places she has never gone before and helps her to understand what a new future fresh from old predjudices and assumptions could look like.

(image courtesy Dark Horse)

As adventures go, Gert and the Sacred Stones is a grand one but it is also surprisingly emotionally intimate too, with Gert having to grapple not just with great loss, pain, and change, but also a seismic shift in thinking that sees her questioning, even more than she has already, what it means to be a good citizen of the land in which she lives.

Much of the central part of the story is her and Atheis journeying through a fantastically beautiful but dangerous world – Carità’s artwork is not simply engagingly cute but rich and colour and gloriously, wonderfully otherworldly in the way you want every fantasy world to be, replete with endless difference and possibility – in which they have time to come to understand each other, to appreciate what truly lies behind the current broken state of things and what might be necessary to save it.

Naturally, the full scope of the task at hand does not become clear until the climactic final act but suffice to say, it is the time taken by Rocchi in this central section to establish who Gert is and who she might become with the help of Atheis and others that gives Gert and the Sacred Stones so much rich emotional resonance and meaning.

After all, while grandeur and escapist wonder are very good things and integral to any great fantasy storyline, you also need to care about the people bound in the tale, people for whom the narrative events aren’t escapist at all but life and death battles to secure a life that really matters.

Rocchi wraps all of these important elements up in a narrative that paces itself perfectly, that gives us time to ooh and aah in wonder but which also sets our adrenaline racing as the figurative pedal hits the metal and Gert has to get down to the business of standing up for what is right, defying the old ways of war and murderous deceit, and changing this most magical yet lost of worlds forver.

Gert and the Sacred Stones is a grand and beautiful trip into a world nothing like ours in one sense but completely likes ours in another, precisely it is filled with people and creatures who want life, love and meaning and who will fight to get it all while opposed by those for whom the status quo is inviolable even if it means sacrificing so much that is good and wonderful in the process.

This last year might have left you feeling like real change is far from possible and terrible things and people always win but the truth is good things do come to those who stand up for them and Gert and the Sacred Stones is proof positive that this is true but also how brilliant and upliftingly life-changing it can be to see this happen.

(image courtesy Dark Horse)

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