October 31, 2016

Bera the One-Headed Troll

by Eric Orchard
First Second / Roaring Brook Press
128 pp.
Ages 7-14 
August 2016

With today being Halloween and Bera the One-Headed Troll being filled with pumpkins and trolls and witches, it seems only fitting to review this graphic novel today.  Written and illustrated by Eric Orchard, the illustrator of the recently reviewed If I Were a Zombie (Kate Inglis, Nimbus, 2016) –am I sensing a monstrous theme here?–Bera the One-Headed Troll is atmospherically perfect for a fun but teensy bit scary read.

Bera, who lives on an isolated island with her owl companion Winslowe, is the official pumpkin gardener of the Troll King. (There’s the pumpkin connection for Halloween,  and, except for the cover and an occasional candle burning yellow, it’s the colour scheme of all the book’s graphics.)  When Bera rescues a human baby from three evil mermaids (they are not of the lean and lovely variety), she takes upon herself the task of returning the baby to its humans.  But that is contrary to the wishes of the malevolent Cloote, former  head witch of the Troll King, who wishes to use the baby to return to the good graces of the Troll King.
From Bera the One-Headed Troll 
by Eric Orchard
Bera who feels unprepared for dealing with the baby decides to seek a hero from her books, specifically choosing Wulf the Dragon Masher.  On their journey, Bera and the baby, with Winslowe scouting from above, encounter the mermaids again, as well as the Guardian, a sea monster as big as an island, and a bunch of hedgehog wizards.  Thankfully this last group whose mandate it is to protect the creatures of the wood already know firsthand of Cloote’s destruction and offer to steer Bera to Wulf’s tower.  Wulf, a troll of epic proportions and light-spirit (“Hey, is that a baby?”, “Well, look at that” and “Imagine that!”; pg. 52), has not been on an adventure in a very long time and, though willing of spirit, he succumbs to his epic sleepiness.

So Bera goes in search of another hero, finding both Duke Otig, the two-headed troll hero of the troll-giant war, and then the three-headed Nanna the Great.  But the reader will soon realize that heroes are not just those who undertake adventures and engage in battles.  Heroes are also those who make extraordinary sacrifices to do ordinary things, making their own quests in the spirit of goodwill, not glory.
From Bera the One-Headed Troll 
by Eric Orchard
Bera the One-Headed Troll is a offbeat graphic novel filled with trolls (one-, two- and three-headed varieties), goblins, witches, and rats (Vince is particularly helpful) and positive messages about offering assistance to those in need.  With only her want to do the right thing, Bera takes herself out of her comfortable pumpkin patch island and discovers new strengths and instincts, while making some new friends and good karma in the process.  I thought Bera the One-Headed Troll was going to be a dark, dark tale for a Halloween night, and its graphics would’ve supported that notion.  Eric Orchard’s trolls and witches and other creatures could be seen as darkly unnerving, as are the settings of straggly trees and murky swamps and stone edifices.  But Bera the One-Headed Troll is neither dark nor frightening.  It is a positive message wrapped in a dark cloak festooned with pumpkins.  Read it for Halloween but take its guidance beyond the day.

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