Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
The Ghost and the Lady [Hardcover]
As the Crimean War rages on, Florence Nightingale continues to be thwarted at every step by the Chief Medical Officer, Dr. John Hall. Dr. Hall has command of the ghost of D'éon de Beaumont, and intersex French sword master, and he wants Florence and her protector Grey destroyed. But Florence has not only her ghostly protector but also friends among the other men at the hospital. Can they all work to keep her safe as the Ghost's story comes to a close?
The narrator of Kazuhiro Fujita's The Ghost and the Lady, the famed Man in Grey who is said to haunt the Theatre Royal at Drury Lane, has never been shy about telling us that the story he is telling is a tragedy. And how could it be anything else? At the end of the first half of the tale, we learned the terrible circumstances of his death at the hands of D'Éon de Beaumont after his betrayal by his lover. Florence is working with soldiers during the Crimean War, and while any war takes a terrible toll, this was one of the first to use innovations such as exploding naval shells, which brought a new level of horror to the battlefields. To add to all of this, Florence is also trying to change the perception of nurses and how hospitals ought to be run, and changing the way things have always been is hard enough without being a woman in the 1850s. Tragedy seems inevitable.
And yet…there's something almost beautiful about this final volume in part two of Fujita's open series about London's Black Museum. It might be easiest to classify it as mono no aware, loosely translated as something so sad that it becomes beautiful, but that doesn't quite capture it. Rather it is about the ultimate triumph of something good after lifetimes of sorrow. If it isn't a perfectly happy ending, it is a very fitting one.
One of the most remarkable elements of this series is how smoothly Fujita blends historical events and Shakespearean quotations with the fantasy elements he's working with. Virtually everyone in the main story is real, from Grey to Florence to bob, and while there is no historical link between D'Éon and Grey apart from the fact that both lived in the 18th century, Fujita manages to make it all make perfect sense. The eidolons feel like a slightly shakier fit until almost the very end of Florence's story and ultimately end up feeling like a concession to the basics of shounen and seinen fantasy rather than a natural part of the story, but on the whole the tale is impressively well put together. Kodansha's translation is as well, using British spellings (so “favour” rather than “favor”) and some phonetic accents for characters like bob, who is clearly from a lower social class than most of the characters. The only slight stumbling block is that there is no translation of D'Éon's French lines; admittedly they aren't hugely important, but it is bound to be an annoyance for some readers. Once again Fujita's bibliography is included, as well as a historical note by translator Zack Davisson. As he mentions, you can look up almost any name mentioned in the text and find out more about the Crimean War and its players, which speaks to the depth of Fujita's research.
The war itself is arguably a character, personified by Dr. Hall. His refusal to listen to any of Florence's improvements, as well as his plots against her (while he never tried to have her killed, he did directly sabotage her via letters to the government). The fact that his eidolon is so monstrous is another indication that he is War itself, and his alliance with the ghost of D'Éon is interesting in that D'Éon was involved in several wars during her lifetime. (At the time of her death, D'Éon was living as a woman, having fully transitioned.) By painting Dr. Hall in this light, it makes him a larger-than-life villain appropriate for a ghost story as well as the famed Black Museum, which collects artefacts from terrible crimes – his crime was prolonging the war for his wounded soldiers by actively seeking to keep them from the care that could heal them. While it is a shame that Hall's relationship with Mary Seacoale, a woman of color whose help he did accept while rejecting Florence's, isn't part of the story, its omission does make sense within the scope of what Fujita was trying to do.
Whether you look at The Ghost and the Lady as a tragedy, a romance, a ghost story, or a work of historical fiction, ultimately Fujita has combined all of those things into one tale that is hard to put down. With a deft hand for the subtle transformation of character on the parts of both Grey and Florence, a light touch when emotional content is handled, and an understanding of how to make literary references without overdoing it, this is a strong concluding volume to an equally strong first. Fujita's use of, specifically, Macbeth and A Midsummer Night's Dream quotations within the text speak to the evolving nature of Grey's and Florence's relationship, and the final lines of the latter play are used to great effect to close out the story here. Also interesting to note are the small sketches of some of the players based on their actual portraits, showing us how the character designs came from real life; final scenes of Florence in 1910 will look quite familiar to people who have seen later portraits of her.
The Lady with the Lamp and the Man in Grey both belong to their own stories, their own mythologies. In this book they are successfully intertwined, with each other as well as with the history of the fascinating Black Museum. This series marks Fujita's debut in English, and we should hope that more works will follow (especially the other Black Museum title, which is currently available in French), because when you come right down to it, The Ghost and the Lady isn't just a good manga series: it's a good book.
Overall : A
Story : A
Art : A-
+ Good use of history combined with fantasy and literature, story is compelling, art and story both show careful research, essay and bibliography are nice extras
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