Review: Alone again… brilliantly
Alone Volume 2 – The Master Of Knives
By Gazzotti and Vehlmann
The first volume set the scene in this post-apocalyptic, Lord Of The Flies style dystopian tale, following the fortunes of a group of five children, waking up to an empty world, all the adults gone overnight and for all they know, the five of them may be the last humans left alive. It played beautifully with the ideas of the familiar transformed into alien by the removal of the adults, the removal of comfort and safety.
Whereas last volume was all about the discovery, the reaction and yes, the anger, this volume sees them managing to put at least some of that aside, finding it impossible to maintain that sheer level of stress even with the uncertainty of this new world they find themselves in. In fact, at the start of this second volume Ivan, Leilam Camille, Terry and even Dodzi are settling into something of a routine, holed up in the Majestic Hotel, making the most of the luxury, doing the thing children do so well, adapting to circumstances, youthful delights often masking the pain and anger underneath it all…
Living in the hotel allows them to relax somewhat, Terry the youngest is busy filling multiple rooms with toys of all sorts, making the most of the empty streets to loot the toyshops, creating happiness and safety the simplest way he can. Camille does something similar with her rescued pony, wandering the hallways of the hotel, such a strange image, yet summing up the weirdness of the children’s situation so well.
Ivan meanwhile has been relaxing by the pool, the mystery of why mobile phone networks are still up when Internet, TV, radio is all down still not addressed, but he’s taken the time to discover the minibars of the hotel and combined with his father’s gun, he and Leila manage to unwittingly create chaos in the city and push Dodzi away from the group and into trouble.
Just as the children get to take on adult roles and ‘play’ at being the grown-ups as we’ve already seen, they also have to take on the responsibilities of the adults now. And with that they inherit all the potential to fail, all the potential to get it wrong, to succumb to the same darker emotions. Ivan and Leila getting drunk on the minibar and taking potshots is just one aspect of it all. There’s also an undercurrent of anger at the world, at the grown-ups who’ve left them, jealousy at each other as emotions get worked out without adult intervention.
It’s the aftermath of one of these fallings out that sees Dodzi wandering the streets alone, trailed by the shadowy ‘Master Of Knives’, although the idea of this threat is already in our heads, not just from the cover (and title of this volume) but from small touches such as this very clever reveal from Vehlmann when Camille makes a throwaway comment:
“Leila, you wouldn’t know where I can find a knife, would you?”
“There isn’t a single one left in the kitchens…”
That line, the gunshots, Dodzi alone, everything slowly draws us towards meeting ‘The Master Of Knives’ but not before we’ve had the tension raised higher and higher, this first reveal a stunning moment when we’re left wondering what sort of madman the children are up against…
Again, without spoilering anything, I’ll simply leave the plot elements there and compliment Vehlmann, and Gazzotti for delivering somethingclever that immediately connects things together, taking the reader back to moments of silliness on the part of the children, everything explained on the final page, motives understood.
There’s even a moment here when Ivan possibly reveals just a little of what might have caused it all, just the smallest hint, something to do with the dangerous and mysterious “15 families“, no doubt more on that in future volumes.
But although the story here is turning into something fascinating, Vehlmann delivering very satisfying tales, fully formed and resolved within each volume, whilst also contributing to the greater storyline, the really interesting part of Alone comes through the growing characters of the cast. Stereotypes when they were introduced, their individual personalities, foibles, flaws and strengths are all beginning to come through now. Dodzi especially is explored through his reaction to events occurring, his outer strength breaking down, revealing the fragility beneath. The darkness behind the story, the adoption of an increasingly adult point of view can only really increase with time.
All through Alone Gazzotti is delivering some quite wonderful cartooning, his figure work exaggerated to emphasise the childlike nature of the cast against a regular background. But it’s the body language and subtlety of his facial expressions that really impresses. Quite simple at first perhaps, but so difficult to get right. Allow me to go on about this for a moment using one of the few moments of light and comedy in this volume. We’ve already seen the silly moment of little Terry’s toy collection growing to take up its own wing of the hotel, but here we see the hilarious moment the four children go to the cinema.
It’s swiftly obvious that this really is a long way off age-appropriate…
It’s a page that’s funny in and of itself, just the idea and the dialogue makes it so, but the real comedy comes when you linger and look closely, watch the children’s reactions…. starting off with a quartet of happy-go-lucky children, making great use of cinema as escapism…
Next comes the first signs things may not be suitable, quiet Camille the first to blush as Ivan and Leila simply find the kiss fascinating and impressive…
And then the small facial difference are all there, the panic, the blushes, the narrowing of eyes, the increasingly quizzical Terry….
To the really uncomfortable silence bar Terry, all the children fixed in place, mortified…
Seriously, could Ivan get any lower in that seat…?
There you are, perfect moment of comedy in a book you simply wouldn’t expect it from, but that’s the strength of Alone, doing the unexpected, following the characters of the children involved quite marvellously, really naturally, following them all through the adventure but also in the quieter moments, those times we see their characters come out. Alone really is turning into something very, very good, genuinely excellent reading for older children and adults alike, multi-layered and meaningful. Excellent series.