Book Review: Hopeless, Maine: Sinners by Tom and Nimue Brown

hopeless maine sinners cover shows woman standing in flying boatHello, traveller.

This review will contain spoilers for Hopeless, Maine: The Gathering which I have reviewed here. You have been warned! This is your final warning! Don’t go below this line unless you are okay with major spoilers for The Gathering!

We return to the island of Hopeless. Some time has passed. And Owen, who left the island at the end of The Gathering, returns. In the nature of these stories, he is now expected to have all the answers. Which he doesn’t, although he does have a nice earring and better hair.

This time around, there is something in the air of Hopeless. Perhaps it is getting into people’s heads, or perhaps people are simply very good at building their own hells. One of the wonderful things about the worldbuilding here is that it could be either, or both, and the story would still work. There is an inexplicable illness going round, and there are, maybe, vampires. There are things in the mist.

And there is Salamandra, living in her granfather’s lighthouse, stubbornly trying to figure out what to do now. She is still not a witch. There are still not a lot of options available. And things thought buried keep bubbling to the surface in a way that is both fantastical and wholly believable, while her and Owen struggle with, well, everything.

The art, as ever, is exquisite. All of the chapter title pages are plays on famous art pieces, and there is a series of pencil-coloured spreads in which a whole other story is taking place. I’ve read Sinners twice now, and re-read The Gathering, and I can say that it is always worth looking at the art for a while – there are generally things hidden in it.

Sinners has the same sense of bittersweet humour that was in The Gathering, and I found it very touching. I particularly enjoyed the sense that, although we are on a strange island in bizarre circumstances, the people are all very much people with hopes and dreams and fears (lots of those), who have histories, and who make terrible mistakes. And I had a great deal of fun picking up all the strings that ran through The Gathering and continue into Sinners. My only complaint is that, if you have eyesight that isn’t brilliant, the text is all a bit small.

Read this book: remember the sun…


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Also, for anybody confused about reading Hopeless Maine – there are multiple copies out and about. My understanding is that the series was published with Archaia, and that they published Personal Demons and Inheritance. The series then moved to Sloth Comics. Sloth comics published The Gathering, which includes the main story parts of Personal Demons and Inheritance as well as the Blind Fisherman prelude (which is really rather vital!), although it does not have the same extra tentacles as Personal Demons and Inheritance (information on the island’s famous families, for example). There are still copies of the Archaia versions floating around, but the writers don’t get any money from those any moreSinners (now published by Sloth) is technically volume two.

Also, a disclaimer, I know the authors. But I’m still reviewing honestly, because that’s my jam.

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Book Review: Hopeless Maine by Tom and Nimue Brown (this review originally written for Pagan Dawn

Hopeless Maine by Tom and NImue Brown

Procession somber; pageant walked, shuffled, lurching to uncertainty.

This review first appeared in Pagan Dawn magazine.

Hopeless is an island that nobody can leave. Let that sink in; it’s a deeply layered bit of worldbuilding, and it’s reflective of the style of this book. Simple on the surface, yet with leviathans beneath.

On the surface, the story is of an orphan trying to figure out who she is and where she belongs: a common enough tale. Except the orphan is Salamandra, who’s not even sure what she is; she has magic, but she’s not witch material and the most likely option after that in Hopeless is monster. The strange and unfriendly world that she’s trying to navigate is full of mist and seabeasts and ghosts and ancient weirdness. She’s also quite happy to be an orphan, thanks.

With Hopeless, Maine Tom and Nimue Brown have created a world with a deep well of mythology, eerie and beautiful. It has a resonance similar to a fairytale or a legend (there is many a reference to spot). The artwork is exquisite – you could take any page, hang it on a wall and still find new things to look at weeks later – and the interplay between words and image and theme is incredible. I noticed that the book begins in plain black and white, fades into almost sepia with colour washes and bleeds into muted colour by the end. It gave me the impression of a fog gradually lifting.

There’s a sweet and biting sense of humour that runs through the entire book. There are invisible friends and demons and unhappy reverends and normal people trying to live their lives in truly extraordinary circumstances, and sometimes you can tell which is which. There is, against all logic, hope.

I could say a great deal about this book, but I do not have the space so what I will tell you is that I cried both times I read it and that I am planning to read it again. Because sometimes the world feels like a hopeless and inescapable place without sunlight, and how wonderful to see on page such an honest and imaginative tale of working through that. And one that made me laugh too!

I want to know more about every single character because they all seem to live very full lives beyond the pages. I want to puzzle over every odd end of myth that I picked up and laugh at the cooking classes. And I want more of Salamandra, persistently carving out a space for herself with charm and stubbornness.

Rating: read this book. Don’t make eye contact with the beasties.

Get more Hopeless on the blog here.