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BOOK REVIEW: Celeste by I.N.J. Culbard

REVIEW SUMMARY: An enjoyable story overall that suffers from some execution issues.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Three people confront their own lives when the rest of the world’s population disappears.

PROS: An interesting premise; deals with meaningful themes; engrossing story lines; sympathy evoked for two of the characters’ journeys…
CONS: …while the third character seems to experience a less meaningful and surreal nightmare; the artistic style, while not bad, doesn’t grab me.
BOTTOM LINE: An interesting story and personally thought-provoking story.

I.N.J. Culbard deals with meaningful themes in his first original graphic novel Celeste. Specifically, the story deals with loneliness and the meaning we place on our own lives. These themes are explored through three separate story lines following a group of troubled souls: a woman named Lilly who has albinism and prefers to be alone; an FBI agent named Ray who’s wrapped up in his job, and a suicidal Asian man who goes unnamed. Each of them has to deal with the unbelievable fact that just about the rest of humanity has disappeared in the blink of an eye. How they deal with the situation given this new perspective is the meat of the story.

What makes these themes meaningful? It helps that the characters experiencing them are relatable. With just a few strokes Culbard manages to elicit sympathy in the reader towards the characters. Also lending weight to the themes are their journeys of self-discovery, though sometimes the execution of that falters. Lilly is shown to be the object of ridicule, so she’s not particularly disappointed to have more breathing room. It isn’t until she spends some time with a stranger that she begins to value life…yet inexplicably she runs away from something she’s apparently longed for. Ray’s story, meanwhile, is an intriguing mystery but, in retrospect, makes one wonder how exactly his story started. And the suicidal fellow who suddenly finds reason to live experiences a surreal adventure that is more inexplicable than illuminating. Yet, despite some of the dots not being fully connected in the end, the story as whole manages to work. A more telling sign is that the premise may initiate self-introspection in the reader.

It’s clear from the storytelling that the point of the story is not about explaining the reason why most of the world’s population just disappears. The focus alternates between the three characters, showing how they each begin to inspect their own lives. Each of those stories is engrossing in its own way, though the final payoffs vary.

Artistic style is a matter of personal taste, of course, and I found Culbard’s style to be serviceable. It didn’t blow me away detail-wise, but the lines show confidence and skill. More remarkable is the production value of the book itself, with thick pages between it’s sturdy, hardcover exterior.

Celeste is an enjoyable story overall, but it suffers a bit from some execution issues.

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.
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