cover image Voyages in the Underworld of Orpheus Black

Voyages in the Underworld of Orpheus Black

Marcus and Julian Sedgwick, illus. by Alexis Deacon. Walker Books US, $17.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-5362-0437-7

Set in WWII London, as German bombings disrupt and destroy life, this ambitious novel from the Sedgwick brothers (Dark Satanic Mills) alternates between two voices: that of the mythical Greek musician Orpheus, and that of Briton Harry Black, a conscientious objector, firefighter, and artist. Just after Harry meets with his disapproving older brother, Ellis, at the White Horse pub, it’s hit by a bomb. The blast lands Harry in the hospital with a severe head wound that gives him the ability to vaguely intuit Orpheus’s voice. Delirious from his injury and certain that Ellis lives, Harry escapes the hospital to find him, accompanied by another patient, a 14-year-old German-Jewish girl who is searching for her parents. After roaming the city, the two finally reach the remains of the pub, where they descend underground to look for all parties. In spite of Harry’s professed urgency, Orpheus’s lengthy poetic interludes slow the action, and Harry’s unreliable narration often creates confusion about the plot. Shadowy, foreboding illustrations by Deacon (I Am Henry Finch) enhance the ominous mood but don’t otherwise extend the story. While the juxtaposition of the myth of Orpheus with the tragedy of WWII is uneven, the book’s antiwar message resounds strongly. Ages 12–up.[em] (Aug.) [/em]