In Thistlebone: Poisoned Roots, TC Eglington and Simon Davis deliver a sequel that’s every bit as astonishing in its execution as the original. Everything that made Thistlebone one of the stand-out stories of recent 2000 AD is here in this second tale, all of the creeping horror, all of the pastoral folk tales, all of the beauty and brutality of nature and humanity… it’s a simply perfect sequel, dark, atmospheric, brilliant.
Thistlebone swept into 2000 AD with a malevolent air of folk horror and nightmare with the first book, with a cult survivor returning to the village of Harrowvale. It’s now a year later and the horrors continue.
The first volume (reviewed right here) was a gloriously creeping thing, pure modern folk horror that infected you with its madness as you read, TC Eglington and Simon Davis perfectly controlling the horror at every stage, the slow build up towards the nightmares staying with you long after you put the book down.
And now we’re back in the little village of Harrowvale for Thistlebone: Poisoned Roots, the quaint Englishness still there alongside the pastoral horrors sitting there in the background of this place permanently scarred by Jasper Hillman’s Thistlebone cult.
And Eglington and Davis have managed to do it all over again, extending the horrors and putting that very same chill down your spine. You can see our preview of the first few brilliant pages of this one here.
The events of the first book have had long-lasting effects on journalist Seema Chaudry, the woman who ventured into the nightmares with cult survivor Avril Eason. It may have been a year since the events in Harrowvale, but it still haunts Seema – and to give you a hint of just how that’s happening and to show you just how incredible Davis’ artwork here is… the first page and a half…
The detailing in Davis’ work is truly stunning, but it’s the storytelling beats through Thistlebone, in both story and art, that really make the book work. That first page and a bit is a perfect illustration of everything that comes after – all the details to set things up are there, the urban fox foreshadowing the return to the horrors of nature, then that tension as you see the figure in red across the road, Davis’ staging already setting your teeth on edge. And then the sharp intact of breath moment, us and Seema, across the turn of the page, that image Avril searing itself into your head. That’s the sort of creeping terror that’s laced all the way through Thistlebone: Poisoned Roots.
From the off, it’s obvious that Seema’s still deeply traumatised from the events of a year ago, with Thistlebone haunting her dreams, or at least her memories of the traumas she experienced. But there’s also an obsessional aspect to her here, she’s been looking into the Thistlebone legends that drove the Hillman cult and all it takes is a nudge from her agent to get her taking the terrifying, but almost inevitable step to return.
All of Seema’s research points to one man, Malcolm Kinniburgh, local eccentric, known to Hillman long before the cult, and part of a scouting trip to the woods that ended in death and tragedy back in the 80s.
So off she goes, investigating once more, drawn into the madness of Harrowvale, the horrors of the woods. And what she finds is exactly what you’re expecting – more horrors, more twists, more nightmares, and a finale that will leave you twitchy, nerves shredded.
There’s no need to really tell you much more than that as far as the plot goes, this is just a great sequel to an already great first book, Eglington managing to extend and refine the horrors of the first storyline perfectly, adding elements in but never deviating from the main thrust of Thistlebone, to tell a tale of nature’s horrors, of madness, obsession, all designed to send that familiar chill through you.
And naturally, as you’ve already seen from the art here, Simon Davis’ artwork is every bit as stunning and atmospheric as before, the perfect visuals to capture the darkness of the folk horrors of the story. Again, it’s got all the moody atmospheric work, all the tension built into the way Davis paces things. And again, as with book 1, this has all of Davis’ visual trickery to create pages that just flow so simply and beautifully, all things I talked about with book 1, the unusual layouts, the dominance of horizontal, page-width panels, using characters and backgrounds to effectively form panel borders, and incredible use of white space to draw you instantly into a scene…
Frankly, Davis’ art in both Thistlebone volumes is a masterclass of doing it right, experimentation never for the sake of experimentation, always for the benefit of the story, adding to the flow and readability of the work. It’s simply a gloriously horrific thing, Davis’ organic artwork perfect to show us all the horror of the storyline.
But here, in Thistlebone: Poisoned Roots, he takes it further, adding a completely different style, more in line with his astonishing way of creating the art for Thistlebone. You can see some of the process in the back of the book, but Davis effectively draws the entire story in fully painted layouts first, layouts that, for many, would be as near as dammit to finished art. Here, for the pages which tell of that fateful scouting trip, he adopts a more childlike tone – again simple perfection to create a jarring contrast to the lush full-colour artwork of the main tale.
All in all, Poisoned Roots is one of those wonderful things, a sequel that extends the original, beautifully, perfectly, reaching deep into primal horrors and delivering a truly macabre sense of the ancient natural strangeness of England.
It’s a magnificent creeping horror, one that horrifies not through shock moments but by a carefully constructed, gloriously slow-build story and art that astonishes you in the beauty it finds in nature, red in tooth and claw, and humanity’s inevitable descent into madness and terror.
Thistlebone – written by TC Eglington, art by Simon Davis, letters by Annie Parkhouse.
Thistlebone Volume 2 is out now from 2000 AD in paperback and web-exclusive oversized hardcover from the 2000 AD web shop.