The Book of Ballads and Sagas HC
Publisher: Titan Comics
Release Date: November 28, 2018
Price: $29.99
Creator(s): Neil Gaiman & Various (writers), Charles Vess (artist)
Format: 160 pgs., Full-Color, 6.8" x 10.3", Hardcover
ISBN: 978-1-7827-6332-1
Age Rating: N/A
ICv2 Rating: 4.5 Stars out of 5

Most of this book was published in the 1990s in the form of individual comics.  There have been previous collections of at least most of the material in this book, but this one includes part of a Norse saga, begun by Charles Vess in the mid-1990s.  It would have been better had he completed this interesting fragment.  A few other pages are also new.

The bulk of the book is made up of graphic adaptations of ballads, mostly traditional ones, as adapted with Vess by skilled fantasy writers like Jane Yolen, Emma Bull, Charles deLint and Neil Gaiman, mystery writer Sharyn McCrumb and graphic novelist Jeff Smith of Bone fame.

Some adaptations follow the story of the ballad closely, others put the song into the context of the world from which it came.  A few play up the tragedy inherent in the songs, some of which are not happy ones.  A key section of the book will lead the reader to musical recordings of the songs, most of which were performed by Steeleye Span on their classic folk-rock recordings, but the listings will provide multiple versions of each one.

Because Vess intended the stories to be collected eventually, he used varying artistic styles on the different segments, to keep the reader’s eye from becoming too accustomed to anyone.  Thus, a funny song uses a more cartoony style than a serious song, but even among those, the style varies in beautiful ways.

Adults or older teens with an interest in traditional folklore and folk songs will be the natural audience for this, but readers of fantasy literature will also be interested.

--Nick Smith: Library Technician, Community Services, for the Pasadena Public Library in California.