Karen Haber Reviews Above the Timberline by Gregory Manchess

Above the Timberline, Gregory Manchess (Saga 978-1-4814-5923-5, $29.99, unpaginated, hc) October 2017. Cover by Gregory Manchess.

Master artist Gregory Manchess’s fiction debut is a fascinating combination of art and storybook. Above the Timber­line is an illustrated tale of adventure that verges on a painterly graphic novel or movie treatment. More than 120 paintings by the much-acclaimed and -awarded artist – GoH at World Fantasy Con 2017 – do the heavy lifting of telling a romantic, steampunk-flavored tale of a son searching for his father in icy climes.

As with any good picture book, the story is carried by the strength of the illustrations, and these are remarkable, depicting a post-apocalyptic future world that has progressed technologically to a 19th-century level with a few early 20th-century touches. Manchess has employed his tremendous painting skills and great enthusiasm for depicting northern climes and wildlife to create delectable images of glaciers, airships, snow leopards, and, yes, polar bears. One glance will tell you why the National Geographic Society has sent him on expeditions, and why his work has appeared on the covers of publications like Time, Smithson­ian, and The Atlantic magazine, to name just a few of his many clients.

His confidence, imagination, and artistic chops allow him to work in a loose painterly style in which brushstrokes are part of the pleasure and texture of his images. He seems to delight in the interplay of image and illusion, allowing the canvas beneath the paint to peek through as a reminder that these are hand-made images. Manchess emphasizes the sculptural quality of his subjects and the play of light across surfaces.

Each illustration is an invitation to explore the way Manchess brings together images in sup­port of the story. Even the explosions are superb explorations of color and contrast.

The production values of this book denote luxury, from the embossed title and byline on the dust-jacket to the beautiful color reproduction on thick creamy paper.

The book is, simply, gorgeous. The opportu­nity to linger over each full-page and two-page spread is a treat for any fan of fine painting. Manchess’s artwork is so good that it almost distracts the reader from the engaging story the artist has penned.

This is one of the best art storybooks of the year. Anyone who enjoys masterful painting and quasi-Victorian alternate world tales will want to check out Above the Timberline.


This review and more like it in the February 2018 issue of Locus.

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