One Hundred Nights of Hero by Isabel Greenberg (Doubleday Canada) is a beautifully illustrated graphic novel offering feminist adaptations of folk tales wrapped in an epic-feeling love story. Greenberg’s newest book uses the same mythology presented in her earlier graphic novel, The Encyclopaedia of Early Earth, and explores storytelling as an essential element of what makes us human.
The unwilling subject of a bet between her thick-witted husband and his friend, Cherry and her girlfriend Hero find themselves in hot water as the friend vows to seduce the seemingly chaste and loyal Cherry. Scheherazade-style, Hero devises a plan to keep the foolish suitor at bay, telling nightly stories of strong women who defied cultural norms for (often female) love. Retelling fairy tales like the Twelve Dancing Princesses and the Two Sisters, in addition to original narratives, Hero gives the women in the stories fresh agency to choose their lives and lovers. I particularly enjoyed the stories framed by the League of Secret Storytellers, a matriarchal group of women who live outside the authority of men.
Layered storytelling cautioning the evils of men give this book a satisfying feminist twist on familiar fairy tales, and provides a sharp commentary on misogyny and the women who must bloom under its confines. Female relationships, literacy and oral history are portrayed as the antidote to the poison of a patriarchal society. Greenberg’s simple lines and stark colouring add to the tension and moody beauty of the stories; I especially loved the use of colour in her many moonlit scenes.
There are many things to love about this collection, but my favourite is how Greenberg skilfully interweaves her stories and characters to create a rich apotheosis to female relationships.
This review first appeared in Geist 104.