“Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant” by Tony Cliff follows the adventures of the infamous (if only in small circles) Delilah Dirk and her unwitting new partner in crime, Erdemoglu Selim. Dirk and Selim find themselves on the run after escaping Constantinople together and then Robin Hood-ing some loot from evil pirate captain Zakul.
Cliff’s story of adventure and hi-jinks in the 1700s is full of energy and occasionally frantic enthusiasm. He gives unlikely partners-in-crime Dirk and Selim plenty of adventures and also manages to weave a reasonably paced tale about friendship and the power of self-discovery.
One of the more perplexing angles of Cliff’s story is that though Delilah Dirk is the starring/title character, she’s actually not the point of view character for the book, which elicits a mixed reaction. On the one hand, by making “The Turkish Lieutenant” (Selim) the actual point-of-view character, Cliff shows a larger-than-life Delilah Dirk. Readers are freed to see her as Selim does: an epic legend of a woman, the kind stories are written about — and eventually, by the end of the book, as his friend. On the whole, it’s an interesting lens to view Delilah Dirk. However, it’s tough not to imagine how much more readers could come to know the woman behind the legend had she been the point-of-view character.
As it is, while Delilah Dirk is definitely not a much dreaded “Mary Sue” character, because she does exhibit some well-constructed flaws (such as an almost compulsive inability to stay in one place for long), I’m still not sure how well readers know the “real” Delilah Dirk. While the book certainly sets readers up for more stories to come, by the end of an entire book, readers should feel they know her better than they do. Instead, it’s as if she’s almost out of reach. It’s certainly a deliberate choice by Cliff, and while it may not be the strongest choice, it’s undoubtedly interesting.
The enthusiasm of Cliff’s story and characters are well matched in his visuals, which feel fluid and effortless. There’s no doubt that this is a rollicking adventure book complete with a flying boat, treasure to be looted, ancient scrolls and high-powered battle scenes. Cliff’s character design, especially for Delilah Dirk, is wonderful, somehow both what you would expect in such a character and yet able to subvert those expectations. She’s a little bit sexy, but in a natural way that feels nicely matter-of-fact.
One of the many visual strengths are in the well fleshed out nature of the book’s world. There’s nothing thin or ill considered here — landscapes, buildings, treasure, people and animals are all given equal attention — resulting in a lovely tapestry. The colors, also by Cliff, are a gorgeous painted blend. Though they are likely digital, they have a watercolor effect that well fits the story, and is very easy on the eyes.
Occasionally the character acting is a bit weak, not quite delivering the punch the story aims for, or suggesting something slightly different than the words, but generally, the design and emotion are right on point. In truth, the more cartoonish and exaggerated style at the beginning of the book (the difference is very slight) worked better for me tonally, than the somewhat more refined “real” style the book eventually settles into.
“Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant” is simply a lovely book. Appropriate for all ages, but never too dull to engage the adult mind, it’s pure adventure — and who doesn’t like adventure?