Voyages In The Underworld Of Orpheus Black by Marcus and Julian Sedgwick

One detail left out of the original tale of Orpheus is that he is reincarnated over and over, at least in this novel he is. In Voyages (shortened for my sanity) we follow an artist named Harry Black who is a conscientious objector to World War II. Through his “cowardly” choice to not paricipate in the war effort he loses the affection of his brother and father, thus sending him on a path of redemption aimed at his brother. Harry yearns to rekindle the friendship he had with his brother prior to the war, and he wants to create an illustrated book with his brother as the writer. When asked about the book Harry says, “I want to do a big illustrated book, with words and images combined; make a kind of warning. About how we’re just going to become more efficient at killing each other unless we work out how to develop our better selves.” I found this explanation very self aware because that is exactly what Voyages does. But, soon after, disaster strikes and the pub where Harry’s brother Ellis was drinking is bombed by the Germans, and Harry is sent on the search of his life to recover Ellis at all costs, Harry knows that his brother has to have lived.

Voyages is an interesting mixture of fiction and poetry, often swirling together and creating a lyrical tale that meanders down a sad path of loneliness. I am not what I would call a poetry expert nor enthusiast but I found the poetic aspects to be very beautiful. It sung its way through this story and really turned it into a piece of artwork. While on the topic of artwork, the pieces of illustration that I had access to in this ARC, while limited, were beautiful. Alexis Deacon did an amazing job of brinigng Voyages to life. The illustrations depict a world similiar but not entirely our own, a mirror of what our world looks like but with an almost sinister twist. Every illustration filled me with anxiety but also wonder.

Something that really caught my attention was the ever looming presence of Orpheus. He is constantly near by, playing the fiddle or infecting the town with his music. You can expect to see a reference of him around every corner. His music haunts Harry as he recognizes it but can’t place where he has heard it. This detail gave me something familiar in an unfamiliar setting, I had a detail to orient myself by.

My only real bone to pick with this book is that it is extremely slow paced and a bit difficult to get through. I believe I have had access to this book since May or June and I am just now finishing it. It’s not that this book is uninteresting it just didn’t captivate me like other novels, and like I previously stated I’m not really one for poetry, which is a personal issue but an issue none-the-less. This book took too long to develop and by the time you get to the interesting pieces you’re a little bit lost and it starts making less sense. I was also a little bit lost on the ending, I had a hard time understanding who was alive and who was dead, that made it hard for me to feel any kind of satisfaction.

I give Voyages a 3/5 stars, while truly beautiful it had some flaws that were hard for me to forgive. If you love poetry and a good mythological retelling I urge you to give Voyages a try.

Thank you to NetGalley for allowing me access to this book and thank you to Candlewick Press for granting me permission to read and review Voyages.