Grandville Bête Noire is the strongest Grandville story yet. Unlike the first two, Talbot isn’t just playing with pulp tropes, but is taking much more from his personal interests to enhance the world-building and lore. His personal interest in art history (and art history conspiracies!) means it feels like Talbot’s pouring a lot more heart into this story. There’s also a big helping of warm humor to fill in the LeBrock & Co.’s sometimes-boring archetypal boots with real character. (See LeBrock’s overwhelming and adorable discomfort at a formal dinner. The fact that I can attribute a word like ‘adorable’ to this heaping mass of muscle and testosterone is a good sign.)
Billie returns from Mon Amour as LeBrock’s love interest. As with the other leading characters, a portion of the plot is spent individualizing her. I was really bored with her in the last book, where she’s only differentiated from the first book’s uninteresting love interest by name, so it was great to see her be her own character here.
The prologue’s a little on-the-nose with its devious plotting: “Free schools and hospitals? The very idea! Education and health are not a natural right! They’re a privilege that should be paid for!” is how much of the dialogue reads for the 10 pages we spend with this volume’s conniving, bloodthirsty aristocrats. While the villains are totally over-the-top, they don’t boss their way around that much of the plot — and they’re treated with so much more humor this time round.
For this round’s conspiracy, Aristotle Krapaud — or Mr. Toad from the Wind in the Willows — is using a cabal of aristocrats and naive scientists to enact a military coup by mechanical means. With an army of automatons and quirky henchmen a la James Bond, Toad is attempting to control all of society by filling museums and pop culture with abstract expressionism. Another means of making the masses docile, apparently. Where-as Mon Amour never lets up from its gore and testosterone, Bête Noire revels in having fun with itself, which is exactly what I want from this series.