Review: Bera the One-Headed Troll by Eric Orchard
Bera doesn’t ask for much in life. She’s a solitary, humble troll, tending her island pumpkin patch in cheerful isolation. She isn’t looking for any trouble.
But when trouble comes to find her, it comes in spades. A human baby has arrived in the realm of the trolls, and nobody knows where it came from, but Bera seems to be the only person who doesn’t want it dead. There’s nothing to it but to return the adorable little thing to its parents.
Like it or not, Bera’s gone and found herself a quest.
Bera the One-Headed Troll is a graphic novel by award-winning Canadian author and illustrator Eric Orchard. Quite unlike anything I have had the pleasure and surprise of reading in graphic novels, Orchard’s storytelling and artwork in Bera the One-Headed Troll is unusual, moody, and mesmerizing.
Bera is a modest, hard-working, one-headed troll who works as a pumpkin gardener for the troll king and royal family. Bera and her owl friend Winslowe have lived a quiet, solitary life on a small island…until they hear the loud and sad wail of a creature being fought over by vicious mermaids, and their lives change forever. When Bera takes in the wailing creature- a tightly wrapped human baby with a tuft of hair- she discovers that a terrifying former head witch of the troll king with nefarious aims will stop at almost nothing to claim the human as her prize. Deeply atmospheric, with palette of almost entirely burnt tones, Bera the One-Headed Troll is a remarkably drawn story with a darker, uncanny edge and memorable, strange creatures.
I had not been familiar with Eric Orchard’s work prior to reading this book and I look forward to read and explore more of his work, which includes the previously published graphic novel Maddy Kettle. There are weighty undercurrents to the author’s work in Bera the One-Headed Troll; you can take a read here at this fascinating and detailed interview Orchard did with Paste where he not only talks about his inspirations and reading loves, but also talks very openly about mental illness and institutionalization. As per the interview with Paste, Bera the One-Headed Troll is, in some measure, an autobiographical story told in ‘fairy-tale form’ about Orchard’s mother, a paranoid schizophrenic, who was able to raise Orchard in spite of multiple obstacles.
Overall, Bera the One-Headed Troll is a contemplative, shadowy, visually arresting graphic novel that I highly recommend. I would recommend Bera the One-Headed Troll to readers who enjoy darker or unvarnished fairy tales or stories, or work by artists such as Shaun Tan, Maurice Sendak, Edward Gorey or Dave McKean. While marketed for the children’s genre, this is one layered, fantastically told and illustrated graphic novel that absolutely crosses over to young adult readers and adults.
I received a copy of this title courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.