Book Review: Sailor Twain by Mark Siegel
Graphic novel Sailor Twain is a gorgeous tale of mermaids, riverboats, secrets, and myths, set in New York in the 1880s. The action in Sailor Twain takes place aboard the Lorelei, a stately paddle-wheeler carrying upper class passengers up and down the Hudson River.
Captain Twain is a well-respected, upright gentleman and erstwhile poet who earns a living on the river in order to save money needed for a possible cure for his disabled wife Pearl. The Lorelei is owned by the Lafayette family, who struck it rich through their paddle-wheeling empire. Older brother Jacques-Henri plays host to Astors, Vanderbilts and other mansion-dwelling New Yorkers, until his behavior turns odd and he mysteriously disappears. Younger brother Dieudonné takes over the reins of the family business, and proceeds to scandalize the crew of the Lorelei with a never-ending string of illicit romantic liaisons, largely with the bored and neglected trophy wives of the captains of industry.
Captain Twain looks on with detachment until, late one night, he finds a wounded mermaid clinging to the side of the Lorelei. He brings her aboard ship and hides her away in his cabin while he tends to her wounds, but soon becomes enamored with the mermaid to the point of obsession. A secretive writer, C. G. Beaverton, may hold the key to understanding the mysteries surrounding the Lorelei and its crew, but will the answers come in time to help the captain?
The black and white drawings of Sailor Twain, interspersed with newspaper clippings and nautical maps, create an atmosphere throughout the book that is both starkly beautiful and highly evocative. The author does a tremendous job of recreating an historical point in time through the smallest of details, and the steamship itself is a thing of beauty. Looking at the drawings of the Lorelei, you can practically hear the chiming of the champagne glasses and the laughter of the pampered guests.
The story itself is engaging and romantic. Clues build upon clues as the Captain and Lafayette venture through parallel struggles to understand the nets in which they’ve become ensnared and to find possible solutions. There’s an aching beauty throughout, and we know from the prologue that tragedy will inevitably come for these characters.
Between the artwork and the haunting storyline, there’s a lot to love about Sailor Twain. This book will please booklovers who enjoy a dash of mythology with their historical settings, and deserves to be listed as one of the year’s best graphic novels.