Artesia

Mark Smylie, Author Archaia Studios Press $24.95 (190p) ISBN 978-1-932386-00-4
This pretentious but impressive book is intended as the first in a proposed 22-volume epic fantasy, The Book of Dooms. Its eponymous heroine is the daughter of a witch, but she prefers to live as a warrior in a vaguely medieval secondary world. She has been the mistress of a minor highland king but begins this episode as the captain leading his forces against his enemies; then, after the king betrays her, she leads an army to seize the throne for herself. The story is thick with pitched battles and their aftermath as supernatural powers and creatures prowl the battlefield to gather up the dead men's souls. Gods and spirits are never far from human affairs here, and Artesia must negotiate with them as with her human allies. This is grim stuff. The story's frequent use of gore and nakedness isn't gratuitous but works to suggest a world in which humans are fragile, insignificant creatures, despite their yearnings to be more powerful. Gods and goddesses are more powerful but equally determined to subdue their rivals. There's little variation in the somber, portentous tone throughout the book. The characters also may have slightly-varied faces, but they all wear the same steely, determined expression. Self-taught artist Smylie is better at building crowd scenes than suggesting individual personality, and the many massive groupings of soldiers reinforce the book's ominous mood as armies and the powers behind them maneuver. As sole creator, Smylie is both using and reinventing comics conventions, sometimes successfully and sometimes not. For example, Artesia's armor looks more functional than the Victoria's Secret versions worn by most female warriors in comics, but it's still probably not a good idea to race into combat with bare thighs flashing. However, despite the book's awkwardness and occasional glitches, the author's serious concern with his heroine and what she represents is evident. Sometimes he seems on the verge of actually creating a whole new universe.
Reviewed on: 06/01/2003
Release date: 06/01/2003
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 192 pages - 978-1-57989-028-5
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