I thought I’d bend my own scheduling rules and do a quick graphic novel twofer, reading and reviewing this for the last official day of Spooky Season, and I’m so glad I did!
First, let’s talk about how creator Ennun Ana Iurov is actually Romanian, living in Romania and writing this brilliant little cautionary tale (with lettering by Micah Myers.) I loved her work in Needle And Thread, and am glad she’s bringing her classic anime aesthetic, with gorgeous slips into full-on horror, into a story all her own.
The story itself is about a young American named Adam. He and his best friend Vlad have been planning on exploring the haunted locations of Vlad’s homeland together, but when he arrives at Vlad’s Romanian home, he finds only Vlad’s mother, in tears. Apparently, her son had up and taken himself to Vastea, a small town on the edge of Hoia-Baciu, a vast forest with a grim reputation. She hasn’t heard from him since.
The police can do nothing: Vlad is a grown man of seemingly sound mind who can go wherever he wants. Adam, believing that there’s no way Vlad would have gone without him, decides to pursue his friend into the forest, skipping over all the other attractions they’d planned on seeing first. Getting to Vastea is an ordeal in itself, and readers will sense that this will likely not end well when Adam’s first reaction to finding scorched circles in the grass outside the village is to try to erase them instead of, say, asking how they came to be.
His reception in the village isn’t terribly welcoming. The villagers are quick to assure him that this is solely because so many young men have been going missing from around there that they’d really rather he didn’t fall prey to the Iele lurking in the woods, too. The Iele, as they explain to him, are gorgeous supernatural women cursed with an insatiable hunger for human blood. Their preferred target is young men, whom they lure into the darkness. The lucky ones never come back. The unlucky ones return forever changed.
Ofc, Adam thinks this is nonsense. Even when the village witch warns him of his own impending doom should he choose to stay, he decides to brave the darkness in search of his friend. In your typical story out of the Global North, this would lead to heroics and the triumph of the individual. But this is a story of Romania told by a Romanian. As the witch tells Adam, “your confidence in your ignorance will be your downfall.”
Whisper Of The Woods is a short tale, but Ms Iurov’s pacing is absolutely brilliant as she leads us, via Adam, through this nightmare world. I actually hit the last page and gasped in anguish, as I wanted to know more about what happened next. But for all that I wanted to spend more time in this lush, strange world, the book is actually perfect as is, with its pointed critique of outsiders coming in and thinking they can solve a problem while scorning the input of the people who live there, and the damage these outsiders subsequently inflict on the innocent. I really enjoyed this short, scary graphic novel, and encourage anyone interested in a spooky PG-13 read (there are boobs!) to pick it up for an authentically Romanian take on terror.
Whisper Of The Woods by Ennun Ana Iurov was published October 24 2023 by Mad Cave Studios and is available from all good booksellers, including