“Above the Timberline” by Gregory Manchess

I was beyond excited when I was contacted to receive a copy of this book to review. I learned of the book through one of Mogsy’s Stacking the Shelves posts and immediately added it to my TBR because it’s described as a “painted novel,” which I interpreted as “this is a book Zezee MUST read!”

I was sent a free completed copy of the book from Wunderkind PR, which I am grateful for (Thanks y’all!!!), but (of course) I’ll be totally honest in my review.

Goodreads summary:

From renowned artist Gregory Manchess comes a lavishly painted novel about the son of a famed polar explorer searching for his stranded father, and a lost city buried under snow in an alternate future.

When it started to snow, it didn’t stop for 1,500 years. The Pole Shift that ancient climatologists talked about finally came, the topography was ripped apart and the weather of the world was changed—forever. Now the Earth is covered in snow, and to unknown depths in some places.

In this world, Wes Singleton leaves the academy in search of his father, the famed explorer Galen Singleton, who was searching for a lost city until Galen’s expedition was cut short after being sabotaged. But Wes believes his father is still alive somewhere above the timberline. (Goodreads)

My thoughts…on the art:

😀 That was my expression while reading — a big ole smile on my face. I love stories, I love reading, and I love art, and this book combined all that in its format. I’ve seen some reviewers refer to it as a graphic novel, but I think of it as similar to children’s picture books (just with a lot more pages) because there are several full-page and double-page spreads.

Stunning, breathtaking paintings (122 oil paintings total) occupy every page helping to bring alive the frozen post-apocalyptic world Manchess has created in Above the Timberline. Usually when I review comics and graphic novels, I first discuss the story then move on to the art, but I’m unable to do so with this book. It’s the description “painted novel” that captured my interest in it and the beautiful paintings that incited excitement and curiosity in me as I read.

Before reading, I assumed there would be nothing but an expanse of white on all the pages to portray the frozen landscape mentioned in the synopsis. But I was way off there. White is indeed used a lot, but there’s also a variety of blues mixed in to give the impression of ice and browns used for the interior of buildings. We even see a bit of the aurora borealis whose ethereal green glow is complemented by the stark dark blues of thick ice formations out in the frozen wastes that seem to stand in awed admiration of the eerie light.

The story mostly takes place out in the open, frozen wild as our protagonist, Wesley Singleton, searches for his father. However, we get glimpses of buildings in the city where Wesley lived as well as a town (I call it a town) he visited while out in the Waste. I love illustrations of buildings and appreciated the design of the ones Manchess included in this book. My favorites of these is a painting of a building partially covered in ice while airships fly overhead. I believe it is the Singleton residence.

Much as I admire the paintings, I must admit that this isn’t my favorite art style. The figures in the paintings are detailed, but aren’t precise. There’s some fuzziness around the edges of some figures because the brushstrokes are noticeable, but that’s just me nitpicking at things because I prefer when there’s a sense of smoothness in an illustration or painting. I don’t like to see the strokes.

But, for an art style that I typically don’t like, I sure love what Manchess has accomplished in this book, especially with a limited color palette because of the setting. Other paintings I love include the airship battle (it’s pretty cool), the polar bears (they’re cute but totally badass), any and every fight scene, and the large ice formations that are clear and with light reflecting off them when portrayed at day but have a dark blue cast with hints of white at their tips when portrayed at night with the aurora borealis stretching across the sky.

Samples of the artwork (click for a larger version):
My thoughts on the story:

It was a decent story and a good one considering that this is technically Manchess’s debut novel. Gregory Manchess both wrote and painted the pictures for this book. He is an award-winning painter and freelance illustrator whose paintings have appeared in several magazines, such as the National Geographic and the Atlantic Monthly. He has also done illustrations for several books as well, such as Day of the Kraken by Michael Swanwick

I’m not a big fan of science-fiction novels, so if Manchess’s Above the Timberline hadn’t been described as a painted novel, the story wouldn’t have appealed to me much and I probably wouldn’t have read it. But the paintings got me interested and as I read, I became curious about how the story would end: Would Wesley find his father? And did his father find the lost city? Is there something supernatural going on here?

Apart from the painting’s influence, the story is okay and becomes more interesting as the plot progresses. I was surprised that I got hooked on it because despite the cool airship battle at the beginning, I was a bit bored. I think my interest in the story perked up when Wesley had his first crash soon after starting out on his quest. I thought it was hilarious because he’s too damn cocky. And that’s another thing that surprised me, the story has some funny moments, which helped to make it an entertaining read.

Much of the story is narrated through Wesley’s or his father’s journals, which I didn’t mind, but there were some interactions and mentions that made me question the narration format because I’d wonder if someone would really be able to reproduce certain interactions and dialogues in their journals in their entirety. But that was just me nitpicking again. Overall, I didn’t have any problem with the narration format.

However, there were some awkward moments in the story. I was willing to overlook most of them, but the most annoying one to me was the love interest that developed later. I don’t think it was needed and it was odd that we are able to read the love interest’s journal too. It made me wonder if Wesley gained access to her journal since he’s the main character and the one either reading or writing in a journal up until then. It just made me a little confused about who exactly is reading the journals.

Overall: ★★★☆☆

Maybe even 3.5 stars because the story is good and the paintings are absolutely wonderful. I’m glad I received a copy of this book and that I read it. I love this format and I hope that more painted novels will be published. I think the format will work well for fantasy and sci-fi stories as this one did.

Buy | Borrow | Bypass

I think it’s worth a Buy. I say that because it’s one I wanted to Buy before reading it and would have bought if I’d read a borrowed copy. I just really like these sort of books.

Above the Timberline was published in October 2017, so it’s now in stores, if you’re interested in getting a copy.

P.S.:

Because of the format and story — full-page paintings and an explorer searching for something that probably doesn’t exist or cannot be found, — I couldn’t help thinking of In Search of Lost Dragons by Elian Black’Mor and Carine-M as I read. (See my review here.) It’s about a journalist documenting his search for dragons.

So, definitely check out Above the Timberline and also give In Search of Lost Dragons a try. 😊

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18 thoughts on ““Above the Timberline” by Gregory Manchess

  1. Damn, this looks awesome! Kind of reminds me of Guild Wars 2, which is one of my all time favourite video games… even though i haven’t played it for over a year.

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  2. Wow, what an amazing and detailed review. I’m with you, I wasn’t completely taken with the story, it felt a little awkward and hammy and times with the love interest. But I was wiling to overlook the writing flaws because for me, it was all about the art. I loved the realistic style and I could tell Manchess has a love of animals because all his birds, polar bears, cats, etc. looked so beautiful and lovingly rendered. I know what you mean by the “brush strokes” though, he seems to have a liking for bold strokes where he just layers on the colors. I don’t mind the style, but I can also understand your preference for more subtle, smoother styles!

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  3. Wow, what an intriguing concept! I wish this was the kind of thing I could count on finding at the library, because I expect the book itself will be pricey, and I’m not sure I would love it. I would really like to give it a try though!

    Like

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