The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains by Neil Gaiman illustrated by Eddie Campbell

“…and that way is treacherous and hard”

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

the truth is a cave

You ask me if I can forgive myself?

I can forgive myself for many things. For where I left him. For what I did. But I will not forgive myself for the year that I hated my daughter…

So starts this dark tale of a journey, a quest into the Black Mountains to find a cave – to find the truth. Our narrator is a small man, a dwarf, but he’s strong and he’s driven; by what, we don’t yet know but we feel a slow anger in him, an undiminished determination despite his ten year search for the object of his obsession. As we meet him, he is about to hire a guide, Calum MacInnes, to take him to a cave on the Misty Isle which is reputed to be filled with gold…


This book is nothing less than stunning. Gaiman’s wonderfully dark story is equalled and enhanced by the amazingly atmospheric illustrations of Eddie Campbell. The two elements – words and pictures – are completely entwined. There’s no feeling of the one being an addition to the other – each is essential and together they form something magical. The story is by turns moving, mystical, dramatic, frightening; and the illustrations, many of them done in very dark colours, create a sense of mirky gloom and growing apprehension. To avoid spoilers the pages I have shown are all from the beginning of the book, but as the story darkens, some of the later pictures are truly macabre and unforgettable.


I am old now, or at least, I am no longer young, and everything I see reminds me of something else I’ve seen, such that I see nothing for the first time. A bonny girl, her hair fiery-red, reminds me only of another hundred such lasses, and their mothers, and what they were as they grew, and what they looked like when they died. It is the curse of age, that all things are reflections of other things.

I say that, but my time on the Misty Isle, that is also called, by the wise, the Winged Isle, reminds me of nothing but itself.


Gaiman was apparently inspired to write the story by his visits to the Isle of Skye and the legends of the Hebrides. While the pictures quite clearly place the story in the Highlands – the kilts, the purples and greens, the blackness of the mountains – Gaiman has very wisely steered clear of any attempt to ‘do’ dialect. The book is written in standard English, but with the lush layering of traditional legends and with a rhythm in the words that really calls for it to be read aloud. Perhaps this isn’t surprising since the story was originally devised to be read by Gaiman himself at the Sydney Opera House with Campbell’s illustrations projected as a backdrop. I was the lucky, lucky recipient of a hardback copy of the book, but apparently the Kindle Fire edition has audio and video links, though to what I don’t know. However, the book is so beautiful that, devoted though I am to my Kindle, this is one where I would strongly recommend the paper version.


All the way through, the story is foreshadowing the eventual end as if to suggest that all things are fore-ordained. It’s well worth reading the book twice in fact (it’s only 73 pages) – the first reading has all the tension of not knowing how it ends, while the second reading allows the reader to see how carefully Gaiman fits everything together to create the folk-tale feeling of inevitability. And then read it again a third time, just because it’s wonderful. I end where I began – stunning!


NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Headline.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

61 thoughts on “The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains by Neil Gaiman illustrated by Eddie Campbell

  1. Your review convinced me. Though this book is rather costly, it is now on its way to me. We will see if it is as good as you say.


  2. FictionFan – I love that feeling of having come upon a real stunner of a book. So glad that happened to you! I’m not one for fantasy reads as a rule, but for this one, I may make an exception…


    • I’m not much into fantasy either, but I have to admit Gaiman tells his stories well. And they’re much more folk-tale-ish than magical – at least the very few that I’ve read. But the combination of the words and pictures makes this one really special…


  3. Well you know I loved this – you steered me towards it, and I am as smitten as you. So – go Wordman, go Margot, this is truly a thing of delight. I particularly like how (in the real book, as I’m sure it couldn’t happen on an ereader) you can see the texture/weave of the artist’s paper, like wonderful hand crafted old writing paper/linen weave, and the way the wash of colour is variable across the texture of that, even though of course the pages in the printed book are gorgeously glossy.

    This is such a wonderful tactile delight, as well as visual and ready, that it will be kept well away from small children – I had the (unindulged) urge to taste the paper, it is such a visceral reading experience

    (and on and on, in overblown purple prose………must have been the heather)


    • So glad you enjoyed it too – sometimes a book is so special it can make even the warring Valkyries since a temporary truce, eh? 😉 Yes, the ‘texture’ is lovely and I love the way you can see every brush stroke too, and the shading of the colours. I tried to wangle a Kindle copy too just to see what it looked like on the Fire, but I was out of luck I’m afraid. I reckon one day they’ll start selling both together – the way they now do with music, where if you buy a CD they ‘give’ you the MP3 version too. That way, the reader could have the benefit of both.


        • Too late – it’s been added! Get Santa to bring you it…

          Well, I’ve had a look at your list and I’m not sure if you’d really enjoy any of them – but we could do a joint read of Gods of Mars…or you could read Allan Quatermain. But did you finish Divergent? There’s three of them… No!! I know!! HP!!


          • He hates me. Ever since I set him on fire.

            No, I quit Divergent. Talk about a girls book! *gags a few times* I’m reading Bleak House. Starting very strongly on that. Gods Of Mars…sounds cool… Never HP!


            • *laughing* Well, you can kinda see his point, though!

              Hurrah! I’m so glad you didn’t like Divergent! I was worried…

              Really? You’re a glutton for punishment, methinks! Well, I won’t get to Gods of Mars for several weeks, I think, so I’ll let you know when it gets close to the top of my pile and you can see if you fancy it. Never…is a very long time… (You’d love the battles in the later books…)


            • Yes…I suppose. But he must be evil.

              Really? About what? That’d I’d like teen girl fiction? It’s so horrible…

              No, no. Dickens is worth torture, I’m told. And, plus, it’s your favorite, and I really want to read it. Okay, deal! (Battles…*hold his ears* I can’t hear you.)


            • You’re right! Any man who goes about sneaking down people’s chimneys and stealing their cookies really isn’t trustworthy.

              Well…I probably wouldn’t have put it quite like that but…well…yes! Though it’s very unfair of me since I haven’t read the books, but I have read a million reviews of them and the overall impression I’ve gained could be summed up as dadblamed yuckery!

              *laughing* Then good luck! I’ll be with you in spirit! (Did you know that HP once did battle with a giant snake using only the magical sword of the great Gryffindor himself?)


            • He also takes milk. And he leaves soot everywhere. Someone should set a bear trap or something.

              Yucketh indeed! But you like HP…so…

              *bows* I shall conquer! It’s not half that bad, really. (Who’s Mr. Gryffindor? Won’t work! I shan’t let it, you know!!!)


            • Yes! You do it next Christmas! And see if you can trap Rudolph too – he needs to see a vet about that nose…

              They can’t be compared! Did you know that HP once tamed a Hippogriff and flew it?

              I have total confidence in you! *laughing* That good, eh? (One of the four great wizards who founded Hogwarts – the one who stood up to the evil Salazar Slytherin…)


            • He never comes to my house anymore, sadly. You must do it!

              *laughing* You’ve got to be kidding me! I do wonder about all these dadblame names. Is that a hippo?

              I believe you probably don’t, but still, thank you! What’s Hogwarts?


            • But I don’t have a chimney…

              No it’s a…well…it’s sorta like…er…nope, you’ll just have to read the book!

              I do too!! The Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry where all the young people are taught magic and stuff. Did you know the school is in Scotland? In a castle?


            • That’d be great! Entice him down a skinny chimney and he’ll be stuck there till he gets skinny himself. Poetic retribution for all those stolen cookies! Get him to drop the toys down first though…

              We’ll see…

              Ah, but some of the greatest wizards of all time have cast protection spells over it – so unless you learn some of the spells yourself you’d never be able to attack it. Petrificus Totalus!


            • *laughing* But the eventual stench! And did you ever notice how Santa never has any nice toys?


              I wish I had a spell… Hey! A professorish spell…that’s cool.


            • *laughing* I’d have preferred not to think about the stench frankly! That’s probably because he gave all the nice stuff to good little Professors.

              Think how powerful you’d be if you learned all the spells in the books. Think what fun it would be to, just as an example, turn Shnoddy into a chipmunk…


  4. Looks beautiful! I’ve read a few Gaiman novels, but they always say that he’s best when there are pictures.


    • I’m very new to him – I’ve only read a couple of his short stories and this is the first of his graphic novels I’ve seen. But if this is his usual standard, it certainly won’t be the last!


  5. So far, I’ve read only one of Gaiman’s books and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I loved your review – felt like I was there listening to the story. Scotland provides a great many good stories.


    • I’m the same, Rebecca – so far I’ve only sampled a couple of his stories. But his writing is really wonderful and the pictures enhanced it even more… 🙂


  6. Ok, ok – I give in. I’ll have to buy this one. I’m so glad you are enjoying Gaiman. I’ve been a fan for umpty years. Great review.


    • Yes, this one really repaid a second read – the first time I found I really wanted to get to the end to find out what happened, whereas the second time I could take my time and admire the skill more – both words and pictures. And it’s basically a crime story about family dynamics, you know… 😉


    • Thanks, Gemma! As you’ll have gathered, I think everybody should add this to their TBR list! If you get a chance to read it, I hope you love it as much as I do. 🙂


  7. This looks like quie a good fantasy book. I’m familiar with Gaiman. The writing/illustration combo is very inviting. 🙂


  8. Thank you . I love love love Gaiman. I’m a recent convert i was put off him after he stole one of my story ideas. haha. You know when you have an amazing plot and then an author beats you to it. I got over it , and now i love him -so I’ll have a look at this. 🙂


    • Haha! It’s never happened to me – I’m sure I’d be a great writer if only I could think up plots! And write… 😉

      But this really is something special. If you like his stuff, I’m sure you’ll love this. 🙂


  9. […] However she absolutely came up trumps for me with this one, urgently contacting me to tell me that I would yearn and lust for this, and that ARCS were available She was SO right – and you should also check out her magnificent review, chock full of those marvellous illustrations, and other quotes Fiction Fan’s review of this […]


  10. Although I already own this story twice over (it’s anthologized in both Stories and Trigger Warning), I’m considering buying this edition for that gorgeous artwork. I love it when words and pictures work together so well; sadly, I’ve seen a few books where that isn’t the case. But you’re right: this one looks stunning!


    • I really would recommend it even though you’ve read the story. I thought the artwork was gorgeous, especially some of the later pictures that I didn’t show for fear of spoilers. And I felt they really added to the story – the two worked together perfectly…


  11. I saw the thumbnail for this post in your side column and was reminded that I have now read this. This story still gives me the shivers. It’s brutal and, yes, so well-crafted as to be near perfect.


  12. I have read many of Neil Gaiman books, both adult and children’s books, as well as his graphic novels. He’s a master story teller. I checked out the book, The Trutj is a Cave in the Black Mountins, and audiobook (read by Neil Gaiman) from my library. I have listened to the book as I turned the pages 3 times so far. I ordered a used copy of the book from Abebooks for $3.48 so I’ll have my own hard copy, once I return the library copies. BTW, Neil Gaiman read this book as pictures were flashed on the screen at the Sydney Opera House. You should also read Stardust and then watch the movie with Robert DeNiro and Michelle Pfeifer. Gaiman’s book The Graveyard Book is also a delight; again I checked out the audiobook and the hard copy from my library and “read” them simultaneously. The Graveyard Book won a Newberry Award in 2009 – quite lovely!


    • I haven’t yet read much of his stuff, but I did listen to him narrate some of his short stories including this one and he is a great narrator. I actually have a so far unread copy of Stardust but had no idea it had been made into a film! I really must do that – read, then watch. This one still stands out clearly in my memory although it’s a few years since I read it – always the sign of a book that made a big impression. Thanks for popping in and commenting – you’ve given me a nudge to dig it out and read it again… 😀


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