Written by Anna Castagnoli
Illustrated by Carll Cneut
Published by Book Island ISBN 978-1-911496-14-4
Reviewed by Karl Andy Foster
The title of this oversized picture book is worth remembering as you read through the sumptuous illustrations and sensitively delivered text. The golden cover is composed of birds of every exotic variety with a conscious nod by the artist to the bird illustrations of Edward Lear, John James Audubon and the legendary Brian Wildsmith. The Emperor’s sullen daughter is the only sour note within this image. She is a great foil to the avian magnificence surrounding her.
The Emperor’s daughter, referred to here as the Bloody Princess, demonstrates how she got this moniker every chance that she gets. She is an obsessive, brooding child who know no boundaries. Her lurid dreams lead her to demand that her servants bring her extraordinary bird after extraordinary bird! Her servants dare not disappoint her and sometimes they don’t return at all from their searches. Finally, she wants a talking bird to fill her golden cage.
For a book aimed at children aged 6 plus the story is firmly in the mold of a dark European fairy-tale.
Carll Cneut is an artist who possesses a masterful range in his painting and drawing approaches. He has designed each spread with the precision of a graphic designer (the typography also works as image in some cases) and the bravura of an expressionist painter. In addition to the cover, his notable spreads include a pin board of birds that contain one of ‘Big Bird’ from the TV show Sesame Street, one with 101 numerals in yellow positioned across the pages, a red flower image where the skulls begin to appear for the first time, the final servant surrounded by the empty bird cages and the green page where the final servant finally delivers the talking bird to the Princess.
This tale of the Bloody Princess leaves us wondering what will happen next as the imagery gives way to written pages that raise more questions than they answer. This is a complex picture book that will draw out the curiosity of children and adults too as the illustration and the writing work on multiple levels. There is enough here to have one return to its pages time after time.