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Sindbad in the Land of Giants

by Ludmila Zeman

If there is a lodestar in the Thousand and One Nights, it is the idea that stories, as well as being entertaining, can save your life. Just as Shahrazad, the frame narrator of the Nights, saves her neck by telling tales, Sindbad the Sailor, in this second book of what promises to be a trilogy, escapes death by recounting his adventures to the inhabitants of a foreign land. His material is hard won: he has survived an onslaught by demonic monkeys, capture by a bloodthirsty giant, and stalking by jungle beasts.
Ludmila Zeman, a Montreal-based artist and the author of the Gilgamesh trilogy, has provided an excellent visual rendering of Sindbad’s adventures, but her retelling is just serviceable. The problem with the writing is its emotional flatness. The narrative reads like a list of stage directions, making it difficult to get engaged in the wonder and terrors that the hero is reporting. More dialogue might have infused the scenes with more energy, and more variety in sentence structure and length would have better reflected the sinuous nature of the tales.
On the other hand, Zeman’s mixed-media illustrations (pencil, coloured pencil, and watercolour) are vivid, complex, and well researched. As in her first Sindbad book, there are exquisite carpet borders around the pages, reflecting the Arabic, Persian, and Indian origins of the tales. Within these frames, each page is filled with dynamic scenes. The one chosen for the cover is particularly striking, showing two raging giants against a backdrop of crimson sky and turbulent sea. It is primarily the artwork in this book that makes it worth collecting and will leave readers looking forward to a third instalment.