Miss Endicott Part 1
Written by Jean-Christophe Derrien
Illustrated by Xavier Fourquemin
Translated by Jerome Sincantin
In Miss Endicott Part 1, following the death of her mother, Prudence Endicott makes her way to London to take over her mother’s secret job – Conciliator. It’s not clear what that means exactly, especially since Prudence takes a job as a nanny for a young boy who is being cared for only by a butler and a cook — his parents are on a mysterious mission somewhere else.
As it turns out, a Conciliator solves disputes and not the ordinary kind. Prudence’s first case involves a couple who is woken up every night by mysterious scratchings at their front door. Convinced it’s the work of a local gangster, Prudence is sent to meet him in his own dangerous den and come up with terms agreeable to the couple to make him stop. But it turns out it’s much more complicated than a gangster trying to harass someone, and this sends Prudence investigating not only into the London night but deep underground.
As Prudence and her new acquaintances dash through the dangerous environs of Victorian London, it would be simple to paint their adventures as something akin to steampunk and be done with it, but one of the strengths of Miss Endicott is its complete disinterest in ingratiating itself to fans of the genre. Sure it has some of the affectations, but they don’t appear to be embraced out of fetish but more because these are aspects of Victorian England and they are bound to appear in fantastical fiction that takes place during that time.
If anything, Miss Endicott comes off as a modern take on Mary Poppins, with the mysterious and alluring nanny that has some secrets and deals with a far stranger world than the one her day job is part of. Prudence herself is not a magical person, but she is a barnstorming one that pushes forward into the unknown without seeming like an anachronism, which is also a refreshing aspect of the story. The conventions of the era aren’t casually displaced in a bid for modernity and Jean-Christophe Derrien seems properly acquainted with the world in which Prudence walks and capable of taking to the tightrope of representing that in character terms that appeal to modern readers.
Similarly, Xavier Fourquemin renders that world in complex but friendly terms. To a certain degree, steampunk illustration has developed some stylized cliches, but Fourquemin ignores those entirely, instead placing the characters in a mysterious and energetic London that dominated with imposing architecture that looks like it’s about to bear down on the characters as they move through the shadows that hide them from danger.
Together the creators provide an atmospheric adventure that’s light enough to appeal to younger readers but is peppered with dark and dangerous aspects that give the story a strong sense of depth that older readers will appreciate, and Miss Endicott all comes together with a sense of fun that doesn’t feel like empty calories.