(S)mythology bills itself as a contemporary fairy tale and that it is: a very whimsical, very adult fairy tale. This dark, yet touching tale stars Sophie, a dreamer and innocent naïf who searches for her ideal love. (S)mythology features a quirky cast of characters who both help and hinder Sophie in her classic Hero’s Quest, including Poseidon, a Guru, mermaids and all manner of fish and fowl, both fair and foul.
Many of the ideals of love are up-ended here. Sophie looks for love in the archetypal, bump-into-a-stranger on the street style and that is exactly how she meets Smyth, in a fateful rickshaw accident. They fall in love and wish to live happily ever after, except…Sophie is cursed. Anyone who loves her and looks upon her is turned to stone. She craves love and stability and a family, but she ends up with a collection of statues instead.
Like Orpheus, she goes into the Underworld to rescue Smyth. She fools Death once, but Death can only be fooled once. Without ruining anything I will tell you that people die and bad things happen to good people, as they do in real life (and in fairy tales). There are some sequences that are squeamish and not for the faint-of-heart, but the redemption of the story is worth enduring the dark bits.
One common theme in the book is eyes, and sight or seeing/not-seeing. Often, the blind characters see far more clearly than the seeing ones do. Sophie allows her ideals of love to get in the way of seeing the true love she actually possesses. But all ends up as it should, with lessons learned and an ending that is both delicate and sweet, like the last bit of summer’s ice cream melting away.
The website (www.smythology.co.uk) is quite clever and deserves a visit on its own merits. You can read an excerpt from the book and visit the different locations (including Londontown and the Underworld).
The stylized and whimsical artwork by Katy Smail deserves its own special mention. This is a new breed of illustrated book, a novel with lots of pictures (64 illustrations in total). The illustrations capture the ups and downs of Sophie’s quest and blend with the story perfectly; it is a magnificent synergy of art and writing, one in which the one almost could not exist without the other.
I highly recommend (S)mythology for those who love the work of Tim Burton and Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and those with fairy tale sensibilities, those who know that when life intervenes to prevent the ideal, it sometimes offers a happy ending anyway.
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