Reading Pile: Sword Of Ages, Book 1: Avalon HC
If you're a Locke & key fan there's a good chance you either picked this up or at least heard about it, but I never felt like it found much of an audience at our store and I wanted to give it some love. Originally published in 2017-2018, Sword of Ages was a five issue sci-fi fantasy reimaging of Arthurian myths. It was a passion project from Gabriel Rodríguez that I believe was supposed to continue on but unfortunately I haven't heard much about a follow up.
The story starts with a space faring family approaching a planet with some very cryptic exposition as they are apparently on the run and need to find a safe haven.
The narrative quickly switches gears and leaves their exact fate a mystery as we start following the path of a young child as she's raised by a clan of alien sentient saber-toothed tigers. See, it's great already and we're only three pages into the story.
As we progress we follow our main character Avalon as she says her farewells to her tiger clan and embarks on a journey that will decide the fate of the planet. The narrative doesn't follow traditional Arthurian beats too slavishly, picking and choosing certain elements and infusing the the narrative with familiarities such as character names (like the three warriors Trystan, Lancer, and Gawyn who later support our heroine) and plot devices such as the magical sword and an alien lady in the lake. It's all enough to check the right boxes to feel comfortable with certain archetypes but also takes the time to develop its own unique flavors and alien landscapes.
There's a sort of lived-in approach to the world building that helps to bring everything to life. Rodríguez tosses you into the deep end of numerous clan disputes, reinforcing that various cultures and creatures all inhabit this barbaric yet futuristic landscape. We've got ape slavers, Klingon-like warrior clans, nose-less monks, blue skinned mystics, elfish lake farers, talking griffins, and hints of plenty more.
That leads me to another element I really appreciated. Rodríguez is exceptionally good at putting clues in plain site without bringing too much attention to them. Just as I was adding one of the pictures to this post I noticed items I had not seen before that plainly clue the reader to what will most likely be elements that will pop up in (hopefully) future installments. These are items that are easy to overlook if you were waiting for the single issue instalments, so this rereading was a lot of fun for me as all the subtleties were easier to catch.
The pacing is also pretty interesting as events move quickly since this was only a five issue run. I suppose you could complain that there is a bare minimum of character development taking place and not many characters have much of an arc, but to be honest I was expecting that since we're working with familiar storytelling beats. Every character fills out a recognizable niche to the journey, so a lot of the focus is on how we're seeing that journey unfold and what interesting new elements and sci-fi tropes can be crafted into it. Rodríguez is also good at capturing plenty of emotion in his facial expressions, which helps to bring you into the experiences of the characters a bit more.
As this is more of an action/adventure piece the focus is also squarely on that element, especially considering that literally half of the book is one big battle. And I am here for that. Rodríguez's sense of motion is truly fluid and his compositions are a treat for the eyes. He manages to be graceful and brutal at the same time, knowing exactly where to cut and transition to different parts of the battlefield and to keep the reader engaged and wanting more.
As a fan of Rodríguez's art this book is a beautiful treasure trove that's chock full of his amazingly detailed linework. In addition you can see that it's also sort of a love letter to the works of P. Craig Russell as Russell's influence just oozes out of the more mythical aspects of the book.
For me the only real downside is that there's the tease of more to come (it's not a tease, there's straight up like half a dozen purposefully unresolved dangling plot threads) and we may not see it any time soon. There's plenty to satisfy you for sure, but now I'm anxious to get more of this world.
I would say if you are a fan of Arthurian legends and are interested in seeing new and fun twists with them then you should do yourself a favor and check this out. Likewise, if you are a Locke & Key fan and love that art as much as I do and you still haven't taken the dive, what are you waiting for?