The One Hundred Nights of Hero by Isabel Greenberg. ★★★★★
In The One Hundred Nights of Hero, Isabel Greenberg returns to the fantastical universe she created in her first graphic novel, The Encyclopedia of Early Earth. However, The One Hundred Nights of Hero involves all new characters and stands completely alone. The two graphic novels can be read in any order.
The One Hundred Nights of Hero opens with a bet between two men. One complains that he can never find a woman who meets his criteria, the most important of which is that she will be chaste and loyal. His friend disagrees. He knows exactly such a woman – his wife Cherry. And so the bet is formed. The husband will leave for one hundred nights, giving his friend the opportunity to try and seduce Cherry. And if seduction fails, he may very well turn to more brutal methods.
Unbeknownst to the two men, our heroine Cherry is in love with her maid, Hero. And the two women hatch a scheme to save themselves, one that’s straight out of The Arabian Nights: they will tell Cherry’s unwanted suitor a series of stories to keep him at bay. And thus is the frame for our collection born.
Like Encyclopedia of Early Earth, this graphic novel has a focus on the power of storytelling. But unlike its predecessor, The One Hundred Nights of Hero puts women and the love between women at the front and center.
“We shall tell all the stories that are never told. Stories about bad husbands and murderous wives and mad gods and mothers and heroes and darkness and friends and sisters and lovers… Yes! And above all… Stories about brave women who don’t take shit from anyone.”
Hero and Cherry are the heroines of our frame story, but their romantic love isn’t the only sort of love portrayed in The One Hundred Nights of Hero. Over and over again, the idea of sisterly love appears in the narrative. Whether it’s a case of sisterly love being the real true love as in the first story or when it’s sisters gone wrong, as in the retelling of “Twa Sisters.” As The One Hundred Nights of Hero says, “Sisters are important.”
Some of the stories Hero tells are tales original to this graphic novel, such as the very first story, in which five sisters learn the forbidden art of reading. Other stories are more familiar. “Twa Sisters” is retold in a relatively straight forward manner that doesn’t veer too far from the original. On the other hand, there was a much more original take on “Twelve Dancing Princesses.”
“So they were Gods, but also they were a family, because this story is all about that. About humans and human-ness. Fathers and daughters, brothers and sisters. Love and betrayal and loyalty and madness. Lovers and heroes and the passing of time and all those marvelous baffling things… those things that make us human.”
I find it hard to communicate all my feelings for this book. As Hero and Cherry’s time drew to a close, I feared for them more and more. The ending made me unexpectedly emotional (in a good way). This book is beautiful in so many ways. From the themes and prose to the art itself. I adored how Greenberg used strong blacks and whites with a limited color palette – it really fit the tone of the stories she was telling.
There’s darkness to this graphic novel, but ultimately it’s about sassy women smashing the patriarchy. Is it any surprise that I loved this book more than I ever expected? It is perfectly deserving of my first five star rating for 2017.