FROM THE YARF STAFF:
Here Comes a Candle is a thinly disguised fantasy saga of the French Revolution, covering roughly the twenty years between Louis XVI’s coronation and the Reign of Terror. The fact that it is set in a fairy-tale world inhabited by animals does not keep it from being as accurate a historical overview of the causes of the Revolution and its first bloody excesses as the best historical novels such as Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities or Sabatini’s Scaramouche. The world is wide, begins the Introduction, and the population of that portion of it known for the time being as the Peaceable Kingdom may be of good cheer. At last there is no irony in the name. The religious wars are over, and the conflicts between furfolk and featherfolk are merely a memory. The times are civilized— (pg. 3)
‘Civilized’ means indolent and socially stagnant. The Peaceable Kingdom is a great place to live for the aristocracy, who spend their lives in luxury, but not so nice for the commoners and peasants who are taxed to pay for revelry and ‘support of the arts’ such as new palaces. One of the noblest estates is Carabas Hall, home of Lord Puss-in-Boots, the effete eighth descendent of the vigorous founder of the line. The three main characters in Here Comes a Candle are Thomas and Nedwin, his two newborn twin sons and heirs, and Galen Birch (owl), their adult tutor. Over the twenty-year span of the novel, Thomas and Nedwin grow to maturity, separate, and are reunited in a manner that neither expect. Both are good-hearted, but Thomas, raised in the isolation of the nobility, is completely out of touch with the reality of the social forces overwhelming the land. The more adventurous Nedwin, who runs away from home to find Adventure (and finds more of it than he had wanted), builds a new life for himself, not returning until the climax to attempt to rescue his brother. Master Birch represents the high-minded founders of the Revolution. An academic philosopher who idealizes Reason and Justice, he favors forcing a new form of government to establish Equality and Justice for rich and poor alike. He is soon swept aside by those more interested in Revenge against the upper classes, soon to be replaced by an attitude toward their fellow Reformers of, “I’d better behead him before he beheads me!”
These three lead a cast of dozens, with hundreds of background characters. Other major players are Doctor Lucky (duck), whose patients only sometimes recover due to his fondness for prescribing bloodletting to cure all diseases, and his assistant Igor (beaver); the Marquis of Brickmanor (swine), an overelaborate expansion of his ancestor’s house of bricks; Lady Beulah, the ferret who becomes the new Lady Puss-in-Boots and Thomas’ & Nedwin’s stepmother (not evil as much as an overly-haughty example of everything wrong with the upper classes); Thomas’ future bride, the Lady Felice Angora Malkin; Blackboots, the pirate wench, captain of the Bobby Shaftoe; Tinker, the skunk inventor; Mayor Hubbard (dog) of the village of Tuffet-on-the-Green; and Sir Jack, an ass. As can be seen from some of these names, the story is full of wordplay. There is even more in the dialogue, such as referring to a cowardly rooster sea captain as “the chicken of the sea”, or dismissing the elderly Hubbard with “The old gray Mayor, he ain’t what he used to be.”
My main complaint with many popular Furry artists is that they do not bother to draw backgrounds. That is certainly not a fault of Mary Hanson-Roberts. Her panels are so full of detail that one could spend five minutes looking at each page to take it all in. This often means a dozen or more clearly detailed ’morphic characters in crowd scenes. Yet while her panels may be crowded, they are excellently designed. The reader’s eye is always drawn first to the central subject, then allowed to drift to the rich background.
This review has been more of technical details than of plot. That is because the plot is as complex as the French Revolution itself. There is bravery, cowardice, reason, foolishness, love, treachery, and more spread out over more than a generation. The narrative is beautifully drawn (most fans will be familiar with Hanson-Roberts’ art from s-f and Furry convention art shows; she also designs greeting cards) and full of witticisms. Here Comes a Candle deserves to be considered along with Art Spiegelman’s Maus as Literature in cartoon-art form with a funny-animal cast.