I must admit that I’ve never read Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, although I have seen bits and pieces of the musical, enough to know the basic idea of the story, but not enough to give an outline of the plot. That is why I was excited to receive Manga Classics: Les Miserables as a free ARC from Udon Entertainment and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I was not disappointed. I felt the author (story adaptation by Crystal Silvermoon) and illustrator (art by SunNeko Lee) did a fine job of retelling the story of Jean Valjean, whose life is spent helping others, often with disastrous results.
Taking place in France in the 1800’s, Jean Valjean, while trying to help feed his sister’s children, is thrown into prison for stealing a loaf of bread. On his release, he is forced to steal again to survive and would have been returned to his cell if not for a kindly monk who urges him to change his ways. Selling the silver allows Jean Valjean to start life anew. With a fresh identity he builds a factory and provides work for the impoverished villagers, eventually becoming their respected Mayor. Enter Fantine, a poor woman working in the factory in order to make enough money to support her young, fatherless child who she left living with two scoundrels that are bleeding her dry. When it is discovered she is an unwed mother, Fantine is kicked out of her place of employment and forced to sell her body, including her beautiful hair and teeth. Jean Valjean discovers her near death and, after hearing her story, vows to find and assist her daughter Cosette. Unfortunately, Jean Valjean’s past has caught up with him. Inspector Javert, a driven, single-minded officer of the law, is determined to find Jean Valjean and return him to jail. The cycle of chase, capture, and escape dominates the plot of this story. Eventually Jean Valjean rescues young Cosette and raises her as if she were his own, taking on the role of father. He remains constantly on the run to escape the clutches of Inspector Javert, but continues to help the poor and unfortunate even though he must deal with the twists and turns of fate which seems to haunt his very existence.
Of course, there is a reason this book is a classic, dealing with emotions such as pride, fear, courage, anger, love, pain, devastation, grief. The author did an excellent job of culling the original novel in order to give the reader a good slug of the plot, although many of the details and backstory had to be omitted. There were a few spots I found confusing and had to reread, although if I were familiar with the original book I would have known what was happening. The illustrations were exceptional. The detailed drawings give us women who are soft and pretty, men who are viral and strong, and two villains who are accurately portrayed as bumbling fools whose greed results in destruction.
I definitely plan to pick up Victor Hugo’s book and read the entire text and I’m sure many others who read the Manga will do the same. (Well, at least the ones who aren’t scared off by novels over a thousand pages long.) However, even if they don’t, it is a good way to introduce youth to those wonderful tales which have stood the test of time. That is why we call them classics. Well done. Four stars.