Book Review: Above the Timberline by Gregory Manchess
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
I’d never read a “painted novel” before, but I think I like it—especially if it means getting to enjoy my stories with such jaw-droppingly stunning artwork. It certainly doesn’t get better than Above the Timberline by Gregory Manchess, a lushly illustrated experience that is truly a feast for the eyes. And if you can somehow tear your eyes away from the artwork long enough to read the text portion of the novel, there’s also an adventurous pulp-inspired tale to go with it too.
Book Trailer for Above the Timberline
Told mostly through journal entries, the story follows a young pilot named Wesley Singleton who leaves the flight academy for the frozen wastes, determined to find his missing father, Galen. We are more than a thousand years into the future, following a cataclysmic pole shift that resulted in the continents tearing themselves apart, and now most of the Earth’s surface is covered in snow. The elder Singleton, a famed explorer and prominent member of the Polaris Geographic Society, was carrying out his lifelong quest to find a legendary lost city said to be buried beneath the ice, when all communication was suddenly lost on his latest expedition. Everyone had already given him up for dead except for Wes, who now has no choice but to turn to a corrupt former friend of his father’s named Braeburn Wilkes in order to get the funds he needs for his solo rescue mission.
But of course, there’s also more to Wes’s motivations than meets the eye. He knows his father is a experienced explorer, with the skills to survive the wastes. Galen also has reason to hide his discoveries from the unscrupulous PGS, and he so has adopted a means of transmitting coded coordinates of his locations that only his family can decipher. His instincts telling him that his father might have found something out on the ice, Wes takes along Galen’s most prized possession—a mysterious piece of old technology called the Arktos Device.
What comes next is an intense adventure through the snowy wilderness as Wes attempts to retrace his father’s steps, using Galen’s notes to guide him. Chronicling his own expedition in his journal, Wes faces his own challenges, from stampeding wooly rhinos and hungry snow cats to vehicle crashes and hostile encounters with the Tukklan people. All the while, Wilkes is also on his tail, suspecting that Wes knows more than he lets on.
Due to the journal format, you can expect the writing to be on the sparser side, comprising meager descriptions, choppy transitions between scenes, as well as other stylistic quirks like line-by-line dialogue without tags. Fortunately for us, every entry is accompanied by detailed artwork, which helps us fill in what the text doesn’t show. By doing this, Manchess manages to presents the full story by supplementing his writing with the cinematic quality of his beautiful paintings, and sometimes vice versa.
But let’s face it; if you pick up this book, it’s going to be for the irresistible visuals. The story itself, while fun, is nothing too special by itself and almost incidental compared to the incredible artwork. Unlike a traditional novel, it’s the paintings that bring the story to life and not the writing, and I found Manchess’s art style particularly well suited to the task. Every piece is rendered in vivid, bold colors creating luscious textures and dramatic shadows, with even the bleakest winter landscapes coming off as vibrant and alive, not to mention how scenes depicting dynamic action looked so realistic that their subjects practically seemed to leap off the page.
At the end of the day, Above the Timberline is a masterpiece no matter how you look at it. The story is decent enough, but the superb visual component is what everyone should be talking about. Without a doubt, it’s Manchess’s majestic, glorious artwork that will make this one stand out and become a treasured possession in any fantasy literature or art lover’s library. I could spend days with this book just marveling at the paintings alone. Highly recommended.