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Amaranthine
by Greg Rankin
60pp
Published: 2016

My graphic novel for the month isn't really a graphic novel in the truest sense but it's graphic and it's a novel, so it counts - to my way of thinking. It's an unusually shaped hardback, eleven and a bit inches by seven and a bit in a sort of anamorphic widescreen format. It's not particularly long, though there are no page numbers to tell me quite how long—Goodreads tells me sixty. And, while it's not really a children's book—though it would definitely play well to a young audience as well as an old one—it's in that sort of format, with center-aligned text in a jaunty font taking up maybe a third of each page, to explain what's happening in the illustration above.

The title is not the name of the lead character, as far as we're aware. That's Lady Gibson, an inventor from what the back cover blurb calls the 18th century, though I believe that's a typo, because most of the cultural reference points within the story are from the Victorian era, so the 19th century. Nobody was taking daguerreotypes until the 1840s and the first piece of artwork inside the book includes the year 1878 on a banner.

Certainly, the time machine she designs and creates by hand is reminiscent of the one conjured up by H. G. Wells in 1895 and the journey into the future on which she quickly embarks is also reminiscent of Wells's novella, but only to a degree. Wells certainly written a major influence on steampunk, but this is steampunk pure and simple, and the elements within it are sourced not just from the scientifiction of his era but later science fiction novels, movie serials and, quite frankly, plenty of sci-fi B movies too.

I can't take you too far into the story because it's so short that I'd be well into spoiler territory almost immediately, but I can point out that Lady Gibson's time machine works, it spins her away into the far future, where it's broken and then stolen, and she finds herself caught up in a string of adventures to retrieve and repair it. She meets quite an array of characters during her adventures and they help or hinder her accordingly; often flouting our expectations in the process.

I really dug the cliffhanger mindset, sourced not from the Victorians but the serials of the 1940s, and it's neatly underlined through use of colour. I believe these illustrations are watercolours and they're washed differently for each "episode" of this print serial. Initially, there's very little colour, with that wash being mildly purple, but, when Lady Gibson wakes up in a new location, having survived her first cliffhanger, it's all washed in yellow. Then it's green and then blue and eventually back to the earlier colours as the story wraps around and I really like that approach. It reminds me of the way that silent movies used to be tinted in different ways depending on the locations or even the emotions solicited within different scenes.

I also like how this is really an origin story for a character who could easily continue on into a further volume or even a series. The back cover explains that the title means "lasting forever, beyond time, never ending" and, while that's appropriate for a time travel story, it's also appropriate for a story of multiple parts that just keeps on going. The future (or the past) is just as bright for Lady Gibson as we reach the final page as it was on the first and I'd certainly love to read more about her, whether in the format that's so unusually appropriate here or in a more traditional form, such as a novel or a comic book.

As it stands, this appears to be Greg Rankin's only venture thus far into the world of fiction, with one other book to his name, 'Security Sales Mastery', which may or may not be the work of the same Greg Rankin. I can't remember where I bought this book, but I definitely bought it from the author, maybe at Wild Wild West Steampunk Convention or Gaslight Steampunk Expo. Hopefully, when conventions start again, I'll bump into him again and I can ask whether we'll ever get to see further stories taken from the amaranthine adventures of the singular Lady Gibson. I hope so. ~~ Hal C F Astell

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