Guideau, the bearer of a witch’s curse, has – unexpectedly – encountered Angela Anne Huell, the witch who placed the curse on her. Before Ashaf can intervene, the witch strikes again, reducing Guideau once more to the almost feral state in which Ashaf originally found her. And this is doubly disturbing for Ashaf as, when treating her injuries earlier, he tells Helga, “I weakened various areas of the body to discourage undue destructive behaviour.” Angela has chosen the worst possible moment to reappear.
This unfortunate turn of events causes Ashaf to think back to his first encounter with Guideau, three years earlier. In the ensuing chapters entitled Eloquence and Silence, we see Ashaf arriving in a remote little village on the Fifth Continent. The place is supposedly bereft of magic yet is rumoured to be home to a witch. As he gets off the train, he sees a mysterious young woman passing him, carrying a coffin on her back.
The finger of suspicion points to Falvell Farmington, a mute girl who lives with her young brother Owent; the two sell teas and fabrics to make a living. Indeed, as Ashaf approaches, the two children are being threatened by some of the local men, accusing them of horrible atrocities. But when the coffin-carrying young woman also accuses Falvell of being a witch, all hell breaks loose – and any hope Ashaf might have entertained that he could settle the matter calmly and without loss of life is rapidly extinguished. Instead, the mage finds himself in damage limitation mode as malevolent hidden forces reveal themselves.
So is Falvell a witch? And is she in any way linked to the witch that the coffin-carrying young woman – Guideau – is searching for? Is there a way to break a witch’s curse? It seems there may be and it could be the answer to Falvell’s and Guideau’s predicament.
The final chapter (28) of this volume is intriguingly entitled Four Levels Below – Prologue and returns to Ashaf and Guideau as they embark on the next stage of their quest which will take them to Orlencia Sett: a world populated by vampires.
As in previous volumes, Kousuke Satake skilfully builds up a dark and disturbing atmosphere which peaks here in a succession of surprising revelations and another hair-raising battle involving Guideau in beast-form. This results in some impressive art (Satake’s depictions of the magical battles has improved greatly since the first chapters) including one heart-stoppingly effective double-page image. But for those readers who’ve been following the enigmatic mage and his near-feral companion, this is an important volume in a number of ways. Ashaf openly admits to Helga that he cares for Guideau, even more than he cares for his own life – although the biggest surprise, perhaps, comes at the end of Eloquence and Silence. Guideau and Ashaf are recovering from the wounds incurred in the battle with Angela ‘The Eternal Witch’ and Ashaf tells Guideau, “There’s still a very important lesson I want to teach you.”
The bonus story P.S. The Care and Handling of Guideau also amusingly sheds light on how Ashaf instructs Misha, the young woman who looks after her (he might as well be telling her how to look after a wild animal in confinement).
Kevin Gifford’s translation continues to deliver a convincing English version of all the place and character names and magic terminology which help to give this dark fantasy its distinctive atmosphere as well as giving us the very different ways of speaking of the two main characters: Ashaf refined, self-possessed yet with occasional sly little hints of dry humour – and Guideau, constantly smouldering, ferocious, yet on the defensive.
Having come this far with the two unlikely travelling companions, it’s going to be difficult to resist following them into the land of the vampires in Volume 6 – and, most of all, seeing exactly how Ashaf is going to teach Guideau that ‘very important lesson’.