My thanks to Pushkin Press/Steerforth Press for a review copy of the book vie Edelweiss.
Sally Jones is a gorilla (at times dressed in overalls) who serves with her friend the chief engineer aboard a ship, and moves comfortably among humans. In Wegelius’s The Murderer’s Ape, Sally must begin a harrowing quest when the Chief is falsely accused of murder. The Legend of Sally Jones, the book I’m reviewing here, is a prequel/companion volume to this book and tells of Sally’s adventures before this book—from the very beginning in fact. (I haven’t read The Murderer’s Ape, but that was no impediment to reading and appreciating this book.)
Sally Jones is born in an African rainforest, on a moonless and starless night to a prophesy that many misfortunes lie ahead for her. While happy in her infant years, she is kidnapped by Belgian officers out on an illegal hunt, sold and smuggled into Istanbul (in the guise of a baby) and eventually ends up in the hands of someone who seems friendly enough but trains her to be a jewel thief. This marks only the start of the adventures of Sally Jones which take her on travels across the globe—from Turkey to Singapore—through a succession of jobs; many hard times and some happy times; friendship and heartbreak, as we see how Sally Jones eventually meets and befriends the Chief!
Sally Jones’s story is no doubt one of adventure, but it is also rather emotional, heart-wrenching and full of pain, where one feels for her (and anger at the others) at every moment. Most of the humans she encounters, whether the kidnappers right at the start, the jewel thief, in the zoo, circus and then also others later, simply wish to use her for their own purposes (profit) caring little for her, and as a result she suffers, many times physically, but far more so emotionally. Among those she meets, human or animal, are few friends who truly care; even amidst animals, she doesn’t really find the love and acceptance she is looking for. Along the way, though, Sally does pick up numerous useful skills—not only thievery but driving and reading as well!
While this is described as a graphic novel, the kindle format my review copy was in was text interspersed with colour illustrations, rather than the typical graphic novel format. I’m not sure how this turns out in the print copy. The illustrations themselves, using exaggerated, sometimes grotesque figures (perhaps reflecting the ugliness inside many of the humans we encounter), have rich detail that adds much to the story. But what really stands out in them in how they capture Sally’s state of mind and suffering perfectly; her expressions convey exactly what she is going through in each frame, and the reader can feel it with her.
This is in that sense a wonderfully told story, able to not only tell the story but get the reader to feel it as well (both the pain and the joy); my only ‘criticism’ would be that as a middle grade/children’s book, perhaps I felt it may be a little to sad or heavy for its readers despite the fact that it does end on a positive note.
Nonetheless a book well worth reading, and one that certainly made me want to read The Murderer’s Ape as soon as I can. There appears to be a third volume in the series as well, which I think is also available in translation.