This review is of the audiobook edition and originally appeared at SFFaudio.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars.
When this audio novella came in for review, it took a few days to make the connection: Mike Mignola is the creator of Hellboy! I’m a fan of the Hellboy movies (directed by Guillermo del Toro), but haven’t picked up any of the comics. If anyone has a recommendation for a particular volume I’d like to give it a go.
Mignola and Christopher Golden, the writing team that produced some Hellboy novels, wrote this. The Amazon description calls it “an illustrated novella”. I haven’t spotted a copy of this at a bookstore, but I’d like to so I can see the art. Mignola, in an interview with Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy gives Christopher Golden full credit for the writing, so I suspect that this audiobook contains little of Mignola’s input.
The story did have a Hellboy (or even a Pan’s Labyrinth) feel to it. Dark, a bit sad, with something spiritually sinister about. It’s set in a World War II-era Italian orphanage, shortly after the Allies’ victory. A recently assigned priest (Father Gaetano) and a group of nuns struggle to connect with the grieving children. One of the kids finds puppets and a puppet stage in the basement, and Fr. Gaetano decides to put it to use. The kids become more interested as he, with their help, paints the puppets as Old Testament characters, then performs stories with them.
This wasn’t a bad novella, but it wasn’t stellar either. An interesting idea, and there are some great scenes, but even at novella length it feels a bit padded out. Still, it’s worth a listen, in my opinion. Or a look if you can find the hardcopy. Nick Podehl is a terrific narrator.
An additional note from a Catholic point of view: At one point I was concerned that a subplot between Father Gaetano and a nun was headed you-know-where, but was pleased that the authors took the less beaten path. Refreshing!