Review: Hilda and the Black Hound by Luke Pearson

Hilda and the Black HoundChildhood can feel like a magical time, full of mystery and infinite possibilities. Sadly, as we get older, the creatures and monsters we dream up fade away and we’re left with a reality that’s much less interesting.

And that’s exactly why Luke Pearson‘s Hildafolk series is a delight. In Hilda’s world, magical creatures are commonplace, to the point of being mundane (did you dog have antlers like Hilda’s pet, Twig?). The charm of these books are effortless and joyful.

As Hilda and the Black Hound (Flying Eye Books/Nobrow, 2014) begins, Hilda’s mother decides it’s time she makes some friends in Trolberg and signs her up for the Sparrow Scouts. Meanwhile, the house spirits known as Nisses are being banished from their homes while the big black hound of the title is being spotted all over the city of Trolberg.

Hilda is an infinitely sweet heroine, and her desire for knowledge always leads her to want to help. She wants to give something to the Nisse Tontu when she first spots him, despite her mother’s insistence to leave him alone because Nisse are only kicked out of their houses when they do something bad (“But wouldn’t it still be a good thing?” she pleads, regardless). Her belief in the goodness of people (and creatures!) does often lead her into trouble, it’s what gives her strength and makes her someone to root for.

Pearson’s art has a playful softness to it. Hilda’s huge, round eyes reveal her constant curiosity and the Nisses are all big noses and beards. The color palette is usually muted primaries with a few twists of brighter purples and darker shadows and the backgrounds offer enough detail to make the world feel lived in without taking away from the deceptive simplicity of the character design.

Pearson shines in action scenes, which are often wordless. He lets panels flow into the next, moving the readers’ eyes along at a quick pace, making the book feel more like watching an animated cartoon. These parts of the book are often quite funny and since Hilda is rarely afraid, neither are the readers.

Pearson also packs in plenty of plot into the slight page count, but the story never feels overburdened, even with a few playful surprise thrown in. He balances Hilda’s real-world concerns (living up to her mother’s expectations as a Sparrow Scout) with her more magical concerns in a quiet, understated way. Hilda is ultimately just trying to do good and make those around her happy.

These are gorgeous books and Flying Eye, like Nobrow before it, continues to be a publisher to watch. The Hildafolk books all feel like they’re children’s books for the ages as soon as you read them and Hilda and the Black Hound is a beautiful addition to the series. My only complaint is that it’s probably another year until the next one, but I know it will be worth the wait.

Copy of Hilda and the Black Hound provided by the publisher.

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