A castle, a killer, and prey all bound and blurred by lust and blood.
Like many before her that have never come back, she’s made it to the Countess’s castle determined to snuff out the horror, but she could never be prepared for what hides within its turrets; what unfurls under its fluttering flags. Emily Carroll has fashioned a rich gothic horror charged with eroticism that doesn’t just make your skin crawl, it crawls into it.
- Title: When I Arrived at the Castle
- Author/Illustrator: Emily Carroll
- Publisher: Koyama Press
- ISBN: 1927668689
- Publication Date: April 16, 2019
I’d like to thank Koyama Press for providing an advance copy via Edelweiss+ in exchange for an honest review.
A triumph of art, story, and design, When I Arrived at the Castle is an erotic, dreamlike graphic novel that combines gothic horror and fairy tales into an indefinable work of terror and beauty and the delicious fear that results when the two collide. The narrator, a cat-like young woman, arrives at a castle to kill the Countess, a vampiric monster who has been expecting the young woman’s arrival. Any further attempt to explain the plot would do very little to convey the eerie, transformative nature of this book…imagine a Hammer film starring only femmes fatales, directed by Clive Barker, with a script by Lewis Carroll (no relation). Surreal and sumptuous, this is Emily Carroll’s most innovative and breathtaking work to date.
The interior of the castle is a marvel, a black, white, and blood-red maze that looks like M. C. Escher by way of Jim Steranko. The perspectives loom and disorient, pulling the reader in to the Countess’s seductive and terrifying game of cat-and-mouse. Just like the halls of the castle, reality loops back in on itself; Carroll layers stories on top of stories, leaving the reader no choice but to surrender themselves to the phantasmagorical narrative. This is a book you will re-read obsessively.
The Countess is a remarkable character. She’s alluring and frightening in equal measure, constantly slipping out of and into different skins as the mood strikes her. In one particularly Eisner-worthy sequence, the unnamed narrator watches through a keyhole as the Countess sits at her dressing table. Initially the Countess appears as a beautiful human woman, pinning up her hair and regarding herself sensually in the mirror. What happens after she drops her human disguise is, simply put, horror at its finest.
I’d like to continue waxing rhapsodic on this keyhole sequence, but I’m heading into spoiler territory, so consider yourselves warned: SPOILERS AHEAD. Please skip the paragraph below if you want to remain unspoiled.
I read this on my laptop, flipping through pages individually rather than viewing the typical two-page spreads of a physical book, and for the first time in my life a comic book page made me jump out of my seat. Having seen the layout of the physical book, though, I can safely say that I would have jumped just as high while reading a “real” book as I did while reading my eARC. Carroll plays with reader expectations and crafts an impeccably-timed jump scare that is organic to the story and gorgeously illustrated. (Jump scares may be looked down upon by some horror fans, but I maintain that when they’re done well, they’re brilliant examples of what makes horror great. This six-page sequence from Emily Carroll is one such example of what makes horror great.)
YOU ARE HEREBY MARKED SAFE FROM SPOILERS.
This haunting, surreal graphic novel further demonstrates what Emily Carroll’s fans have known for years: that she is one of the most talented and intriguing creators in horror comics. With When I Arrived at the Castle, she reaches new heights of terror and artistic achievement. Her hypnotic illustrations and eerie, poetic storytelling ensnare the reader in a labyrinthine fairy tale that they’ll never want to escape.
I want to boil this book into a potion and drink it every day. I give it 5 out of 5 coffins.