The Death of Sleep is a new graphic novel by Aleš Kot (writer) and Piotr Kowalski (artist), based on the acclaimed videogame Bloodborne developed by FromSoftware. It is set in the Gothic city of Yharnam, which suffers from an endemic plague that turns its citizens into horrific beasts. A nameless Hunter (powerful people tasked with slaying these beasts) seeks something called “Paleblood” in order to transcend the Hunt and escape the nightmare that plagues Yharnam. The Hunter encounters a strange child whose blood runs pale, and believing them to be the key to their transcendence embarks upon a journey to escape the city once and for all.
As a fan of the videogame I enjoyed this book quite a lot. It had a unique challenge in adapting this game because so much of the lore is obscured and left up to the player to unravel. Spelling things out in an expanded work of fiction could cheapen, or worse contradict, what is buried in the game. This book aptly captures the vagueness that enshrouds the world of Yharnam, shedding new light sparingly yet appreciably. It felt very faithful to the spirit and tone of the game. To this end I suspect this book would be a bit troublesome for someone new, though media like this is typically not for the unfamiliar, so I can’t fault it too much for that.
Though events take place before the beginning of the game, the unnamed Hunter is not unlike the player character, including an androgynous appearance and ambiguous gender alluding to how customizable the player character is in the game. The pursuit of Paleblood to “transcend the Hunt” is not unique to this Hunter either, though their journey is rather different. Though they apparently lack the insight to understand what is truly going on, they are aware of the nightmarish loop the Night of the Hunt in Yharnam has ensnared them in and they desire an escape from the endless slaughter and death any way that they can.
The first chapter showed them remarking about how they’ve slain the beasts they’re fighting once before. Soon after they die at the hands of a blood-starved beast, only to become reborn and go through it all again, choosing to flee rather than meet the same fate. Though another nod to the mechanics of the game, I appreciated that this fleshed out something more. Each death for your character is truly a death. This story captures what players might see as nothing more than a respawning mechanic and torments the Hunter with this loop of pain, death, and slaughter. The denizens of Yharnam may be horrific, but the true terror lies in a reality the character cannot escape from and a nature they have to fight against—a Hunter must hunt.
Their journey takes them through many familiar environments, beautifully realized by Kowalski’s art. Some of the landscape are especially beautiful in their desolation as well as the beasts horrifically presented and the absolute carnage viscerally realized. There’s an especially good build up and reveal to a monstrous transformation as well that succeeded in startling me a little. The writing and art felt perfectly in tune with each other.
What made The Death of Sleep excel for me was its simplicity. It didn’t set out to tell a deeply elaborate story set in the universe, expounding upon the lore, nor did it try for thrills over substance, cramming in as much action, violence, and boss monsters as it could. In the end it faithfully adapted the ideas and settings of the game, telling a more subdued, personal story of one Hunter’s journey to try and escape a nightmare that not even death could free them from. Most importantly, perhaps, it takes a leaf from the game further by presenting a story and world that doesn’t give you all the answers, but enough clues and context to unpack some of what is going on. In this way it may be a welcome read for newcomers after all.
My Rating: 4 out of 5