Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Divine

The Divine was inspired by God's Army, a group of Burmese dissidents led by twin 12-year-old boys, but it takes that seed of truth and spins it into a much broader and fantastic fiction that still manages to comment on contemporary issues. The plot follows Mark, an ex-military explosives expert from the US who is stuck in a crappy job, with a baby on the way and pressure to move on to better conditions. He gets contacted by his friend Jason to be a contractor on a lucrative mining job in the fictional southeast Asia country Quanlom. Soon, he finds himself surrounded by conflict and he is moved by the plight of the country's inhabitants, particularly the children who are caught up in the violence.

In this book, the dragons are both literal and figurative. Mark is astounded when he finds that two of these young soldiers he befriends can summon gigantic warriors and also control powerful, destructive supernatural forces. Jason is not so sympathetic, and much of this book is a debate/commentary on the nature of war and its consequences. Even though it is a work of fiction, it packs a powerful and realistic punch. There are a number of monsters in this book, and some of them are actually humans.

In discussing this interesting, gripping, and provocative tale, I have not even gotten to what I feel is the strongest part of this book, the artwork. Brothers Asaf and Tomer Hanuka have hit a home run with their expert depictions of human moments, frenetic action sequences, and broad vistas that call to mind classic Asian landscape paintings. The pages ripple with action, and I love how the coloring is used to convey mood with foreboding reds, soothing greens, and murky browns. As you can see in the splash page below, the art is wondrous to drink in.

Asaf is also known for his work on The Realist webcomic, and both brothers have impressive portfolios of commercial art work for major media outlets. Writer and filmmaker Boaz Lavie has written for many venues, and he is also known for his short film, The Lake. This interview with all the creators casts more light on their work on this book.

The reviews I have read of this book have been celebratory. Publishers Weekly called it "heady, hellacious, and phantasmagoric." Scott at the Open Book Society called it "one of the most perfect blends of word and pictures." Nathan Wilson called it "the latest installment in a catalog of award winning books."

The Divine was published by First Second, and they have a preview and much more available here. Because of occasional swearing and a few scenes of graphic violence, I would recommend this book for readers mature enough to handle both.

Thank you, Gina, for the review copy!

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