Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, where each week one of our contributors goes crazy over a book they just can’t seem to get enough of. Intrigued to find something new? Seeking validation for your secret passions? Required Reading gets you.
By Brandy Dykhuizen. From the moment you dive into Adam Sarlech: A Trilogy, you know exactly what sort of story it’s going to be. It’s a histrionic, scandalous and otherworldly tale, twirling its danse macabre somewhere between the hideous unknown and a penny dreadful. Crimes of the family and forays into the occult draw the obvious comparisons to Lovecraft and Poe. However, Frédéric Bézian forgoes the typical mystery tropes by plunging directly into every conceivable plotline at once, distracting and overwhelming the reader until the final a-HA moment slaps them upside the head long after they forgot they were looking for it. And, somehow, this works.
Predictable moments force your guard down as the first tale unravels at light speed, explicating the history of a truly deranged family amidst excerpts from the diary of the legendary Adam Sarlech. You pat yourself on the back for figuring out a veiled identity one moment, only to be caught off guard at the introduction of a new, heart-piercing horror. It’s in moments like these that Bézian would remind you that it is he who calls the shots. That’s not to say the unexpected scenes will rock you to your core in their profundity, but they will dangle a shiny enough object in front of your mind’s eye to divert its attention to a whole new set of questions.
The artwork is as jarring and affecting as the stories themselves. The characters all look freakish, unhealthy. Bézian’s heavy lines scratch all over their kitchen witch faces, pained and pinched as dried apples. Mouths agape at their own horror or jaws locked in skeptical contempt, the reader’s eye must dig deep into the countenances to follow their gazes. Every image is exposed in plain sight, but cloaked in a scribbly static reminiscent of our voyages to and from the chambers of our minds. With devilish colors and deadly cold landscapes, the panels twist and turn through the corridors of Sarlech’s sadistic arc.
Revenge, monocles and mutton chops all feature big in the trilogy, spotlighting monstrous Dickensian men who never really come out ahead, despite their confidence in their own trickery. The only thing they have to rely on is death, which is always a certainty but not necessarily the end. The characters intertwined in these three stories devote so much time to covering up and running from their past, that they fail to read the writing on the wall, as warning signs surround them in the form of familiar surnames and previously-trodden avenues. There is no such thing as starting over – your past will hunt you down and avenge those you’ve wronged when you least expect it.
Be warned, friends! A venture between the covers of this tome will lead you to vile scenes recounted by unreliable narrators telling horror stories in which the only sure thing is death. Ghosts will conquer men, effigies will rise and nymphomaniacs will hump wax likenesses in the attic. And you won’t be able to put it down. Adam Sarlech is a Choose Your Own Adventure book in which you have no real control – your hands and feet are tied to the track, but if you can wake from the nightmare in time, you just might escape dying in your sleep.
Written and Illustrated by Frédéric Bézian.
Translated by Mark Bence.
U.S. Edition edited by Alex Donoghue and Tim Pilcher.
Book design by Jerry Frissen.