"A good place to start."
When I first clapped eyes on this ethereal beauty I was immediately transported back to Joshua Middleton's SKY BETWEEN BRANCHES prelude. Sadly, that came to nothing, but here, have this instead.
The colours are cool, calm and as easy on the eye as Optrex: far from primary, there are never too many at one. Image-driven, the pages are predominantly silent because so is our heroine throughout. One's not entirely sure to begin with how much of what's going on around her she fully comprehends. She needs to... acclimatise.
We first find her kneeling on the bare-boarded floor of a town hall with the most gigantic clock up above her. There will be another laid into the stone square outside. And then there's her pocket watch which will attract some her attention, inscribed with what assumes is her name, Orio.
She's also found by Senior Orderly Margo who wears a nurse's uniform, is held up by strings and makes the same assumption. She speaks in white boxes which appear worn or overexposed like very old film strips. To me this suggests ancient radio / recording crackling as in the video game Bioshock.
She sends Orio downstairs to select her Odd. There are shelves and shelves of odds: animals plushes and figurines. The one that stands out - because it helped her choose a jacket upstairs and now saunters across the floor with a sorry-I'm-late shrug - is Bauble.
Bauble is beautifully designed: the sort of thing LENORE's Roman Dirge might come up with if working in porcelain. It's a smooth, bipedal, cat-like creature with a satin sheen and an extra carapace segment forming its forehead, nose and upper jaw so that it appears to have little, fanged mandibles. Its eyes are the most enormous orbs except when its cross when they narrow under the weight of a furrowed brow, and the inky spots around each eye morph according to mood. When it skritches and scratches at a door it leaves little ghost-outlines of itself behind. I'm telling you, the art throughout is exquisite.
Bauble appears to come with a reputation for trouble which precedes her / him / it. I'm afraid it turns out to be very well earned.
Out on the Eastern European country-town street Orio and Bauble are met by Alluet and Bristle, Bristle being a blue bird made out of felt - Alluet's Odd.
"As your adjustment liaison I'll be your tour guide, temporary roommate, friend, confidante, career advisor, cook, counsellor, and all around handler until we've settle you here in Cobble.
"Sounds lovely, doesn't it?
"It does, doesn't it?"
"So then. Shall we go?"
It's only then, when Alluet offers out her hand, that you finally notice her hinged wrists.
I like that there is no info on the back cover. None whatsoever. You'll need to discover this for yourself, just like Orio. It depends on how much time you're prepared to put in, whether you'll spot things like the big fluffy beast curled up by the bread oven, basking in its heat. It has a centre seam running up its back.
Everyone Orio's introduced to seems friendly enough - until Bauble grows bored and buggers things up over and over again. And this first act is, as much as anything else, about Bauble learning to trust and appreciate Orio rather than make things messy for her, lead her on a goose chase or into danger.
Because late at night something in Cobble is stirring. There are CRICKS and there are CRACKS and there are shadows on the move. There is a silhouette of a feral skull in profile with the most enormous jaws and thick, thick fangs. Then it moves out of the shadows and into the daylight between deserted market stalls. I'd probably run.