The Healing Thirst by Aleš Kot (writer), Piotr Kowalski (artist), and Brad Simpson (colourist) is the second graphic novel adapting the world of the video game Bloodborne, a horror action-RPG developed by FromSoftware. This volume tells a story that stands alone from its predecessor, about a healer and scientist named Alfredius and a priest of the Healing Church named Clement who form an unlikely friendship while Yharnam slowly succumbs to plague all around them. The beastly scourge—an illness that turns humans into beasts akin to werewolves—is becoming more and more prominent. Meanwhile, another mysterious sickness known as Ashen Blood is laying waste to the population as well. The two pool their resources together to uncover the source of these ailments in hopes of discovering a cure.
While these characters do not appear in the video game, I really appreciated the alternative perspective they provided for the slow descent into the nightmarish cityscape players are familiar with. Clement is a low-ranking priest and Alfredius a civilian doctor, so this book provides a glimpse into the lives of more everyday people in Yharnam before almost all levels of society fell to madness. In a few uncannily mundane scenes, we see Alfredius’ neighbour Mathilde tending her roses and cooking in her kitchen while she tries to make the most of life in troubled times.
The early phases of the story actually have a lot of people going about their business with some semblance of normalcy. A lot of these details were more in the background, but it’s a side of the city I’ve never really gotten to see. It’s clear that Beasts are considered a common occurrence, but the Hunters appear to serve their function more simply, dispatching them here and there in more limited incidents rather than packs of them roaming the streets. As the story progresses we see conditions degrade. The city’s afflictions worsen and coffins begin to fill the streets. Paying close attention to the way the background changes in the context of the story grants some valuable insight into how the Yharnam of the game came to be.
The Ashen Blood disease, only touched upon in the game, is explored in a little more depth here thanks to the two protagonists. In true Bloodborne fashion, which Kot has been impeccable at adapting, we are granted some new understanding of this specific affliction and where it came from, but what the characters uncover leaves us with a lot more questions than answers. As a result, this story becomes as much, if not more, about the friendship between Alfredius and Clement and the personal demons they struggle with.
Clement, a once idealistic man who became a priest to help people, is disillusioned after the death of his friend, the Hunter Elio, who became gravely injured under unusual circumstances that never really get revealed, but hint at the greater forces at play in the world. His search for a cure for Ashen Blood costs him his faith further, as the Healing Church is more involved than he would have believed. Alfredius is well-intentioned but through selfish impulses has committed a grievous crime that he both struggles with yet tries to capitalize upon. He is the more dubious of the two, yet his friendship with Clement is sincere, making their story all the more tragic.
I ultimately found Clement to be the more interesting of the two protagonists. He seemed the most purely motivated to do the right thing no matter what, despite his personal investment in the church. In a world so stricken, a character with conviction like his shone like a beacon. Alfredius meant well, but became too wrapped up in personal pursuits to combat the bigger picture. This worked perfectly well with his character in context, but made me frustrated with him.
What I’ve enjoyed more than anything else about these Bloodborne graphic novels is how subdued the storytelling is when adapting the world, which is especially the case for The Healing Thirst. The game can be quite over-the-top in having the player combat an onslaught of beasts and other horrors, but these books have so far more appreciably captured the heart and soul of that world, however twisted, and woven tales that worry the imagination. Kowalski’s art continues to wonderfully realize this world as well, making its degradation ghastly while contrasted well with surprisingly homey settings that we know shall not last. I highly recommend it to fans, though it may be too esoteric for new readers.
My Rating: 4 out of 5