Review – “Elves, Volume 1”

Elves“Elves, Volume 1”

Written by Jean-Luc Istin & Nicolas Jarry

Illustrated by Kyko Duarte & Gianluca Maconi

Colors by Diogo Saïto

Translated by Christina Cox-De Ravel

Published by Insight Comics

Back in 2014 I discovered a series of comic books dedicated to the legendary fantasy race of elves. I came upon it a year later than it began being released by Éditions Soleil, a French comic book publisher, but the main point is that I really loved the concept behind it. The Elves series features stories centered on five different races of elves and each tale is approached from the perspective of five different writers and five different artists, but all sharing the same fantasy world. This series concept was created by Jean-Luc Istin and Nicolas Jarry, who are also two of the writers involved in the project, Istin for the blue elves and Jarry for the sylvan elves, and they are joined by Olivier Péru (writing the white elves stories), Eric Corbeyran (the half-elves) and Mark Hadrien (the dark elves) and the artists Kyko Duarte (the blue elves), Gianluca Maconi (the sylvan elves), Stéphane Bileau (the white elves), Jean-Paul Bordier (the half-elves) and Ma Yi (the dark elves). There are 17 volumes already published and although some of them worked better than others for me, overall the Elves series is one I follow with great pleasure.

Earlier this month Insight Comics published the English edition of the first two volumes, joined together in a single book. Most of the volumes are already available in English, also from Éditions Soleil, but only in electronic format, so Insight Comics brings forth the paperback edition of the Elves series translated into English. I am quite happy to see “Elves, Volume 1” being released in English physical format, because I do believe comic books work better on paper rather than on a screen and I am delighted to see this particular series reaching a wider readership. Unfortunately, my delight is tempered a bit by the edition released by Insight Comics. Like I said, the Elves series follows the concept of 5 races, 5 writers, 5 artists, 1 world, but “Elves, Volume 1” while joining together the first two stories of the series, “The Crystal of the Blue Elves” and “The Honor of the Sylvan Elves”, does not acknowledge the creators of the second one. These are two separate story arcs, but on the cover and the spine of the book appear only the names of the writer Jean-Luc Istin, the artist Kyko Duarte and Diogo Saito (responsible for the colors), the team behind the first story, “The Crystal of the Blue Elves”. The same thing happens in the interior of the volume, at the title page of “The Crystal of the Blue Elves” the names of the writer, artist and colorist are rightfully highlighted, while at the title page of “The Honor of the Sylvan Elves” there is none present. The team behind the second story, Nicolas Jarry (story), Gilanuca Maconi (illustration) and Diogo Saito (colors), is only mentioned at the copyright segment, in a small line on the last page. They do appear also on the Amazon page of the volume, but I believe they deserved more than this and the way the book looks might lead to the belief that they have no contribution at all.

It is said that there are things getting lost in translation, but here something of the contrary happens. Not with the second story, “The Honor of the Sylvan Elves”, where everything looks much the same, but with the first, “The Crystal of the Blue Elves”. There is more text present in this volume than in the original French one. The story is told from the perspective of the main character, Lanawyn, but that isn’t the case in the initial publication. It is not entirely bad, some of the additional thoughts augment a bit more the world-building, the setting is a little richer thanks to them. However, since the story is a mystery at its core some of the additional text might reveal something of the plot unraveling here. And I am not saying it because I already knew the outcome, but because there are hints dropped here and there pointing toward a certain end. I honestly believe that leaving the panels without that extra content, as they are originally, works better for the satisfaction of the reader. And one more small matter, the fantasy world of the Elves comics has a map in the French editions, one that is missing in “Elves, Volume 1”. It is very much a personal issue, cartography being one of my soft spots, but I did find myself a little disappointed to not see it in this edition as well.

I am always thrilled to see a favorite series of fantasy stories, in the classical vein of the genre, from outside the English language being translated and although the presentation made by Insight Comics needs improvement I strongly believe that “Elves, Volume 1” being published in English too is a very good thing.

Here are my thoughts put on paper back in 2014 when I first read “The Crystal of the Blue Elves” and “The Honor of the Sylvan Elves”.

“The Crystal of the Blue Elves”

Written by Jean-Luc Istin

Illustrated by Kyko Duarte

Colors by Diogo Saïto

Returning from a journey the blue elf Lanawyn and her human friend Turin reach the city of Ennlya only to discover that all its inhabitants have been killed. The evidence they uncover points towards the human clan of Yrlanis as responsible for the atrocity. At the same time, in the island city of Elsémur, Vaalann, a young blue elf, appears to be the chosen of whom an old prophecy speaks of, the one who will control the powerful crystal of the blue elves.

Jean-Luc Istin’s “The Crystal of the Blue Elves” is not a groundbreaking story, most of its elements are very familiar. But if this tale doesn’t score points for originality, it still delivers an interesting and entertaining story. Two arcs go in parallel for the most part of the graphic novel, the criminal investigation in the Ennlya’s massacre and Vaalann’s attempt in fulfilling the blue elves’ old prophecy. The alternation between the two makes the intrigue work better, provides good suspense and allows the plot to accumulate enough mystery for the final twist to be effective. Blood runs hot within the story as well, there is plenty of action to be had, both on grander and smaller scales, some tense encounters and presence of mythical creatures that quicken the pace nicely and add something extra to the tale.

The characters are pleasant as well. “The Crystal of the Blue Elves” limited number of pages does not offer much space for the characters to develop properly, but they still manage to be lively to a certain extent. Little elements of their personalities make themselves present and the reader can guess a couple of other aspects regarding the characters from here. They are not what I could call memorable, but there is no regret in spending time in their company either.

The liveliness of the characters gains potency from the drawings of Kyko Duarte as well. His art is wonderful, the personalities and emotions well captured in all the characters, the scenes captivating and the landscapes and locations represented wonderfully. Kyko Duarte’s art complements successfully the story, it intensifies the enjoyment of this little graphic novel and provides some splendid frameworks. The minor details tend to get blurred into a mass within a couple of cadres, but that might be put on perfectionist demands rather than the fault of the artist. The overall result obtained by Kyko Duarte with each frame is nothing but satisfying.

I pursued my fascination with the elves to Jean-Luc Istin and Kyko Duarte’s comic book and I feel no disappointment in doing so. “The Crystal of the Blue Elves” is an epic fantasy that doesn’t defy the standards and does not challenge the reader, but it is a fun and relaxing story.

“The Honor of the Sylvan Elves’

Written by Nicolas Jarry

Illustrated by Gianluca Maconi

Colors by Diogo Saïto

A group of city-states driven only by mercantile intentions seek to seize the rights of customs held by the city of Eysine, but when they refuse to wield under their pressure an army of mercenary orcs hired by the group besieges the citadel. With no allies left to stand by the city of Eysine Llali, the king’s daughter, decides to seek help from the sylvan elves, retired within the forests. Hoping to awaken an ancient alliance between the humans and the sylvan elves Llali meets Yfass, an elven hunter, who leads her to his people.

The reader is thrown in the heart of the story from the first panels, with the entire plot revealed only several pages later and until the full scenario is grasped it takes a series of journeys back and forth in time. Due to this approach and the fact that healthy chunks of dialogue are necessary for the whole plot to be set into place makes the unraveling of the tale a slow process. The stage is occupied mainly by the game of politics, played by the involved parties until the extreme consequence of war is brought upon them. Economic interests, old treaties and internal affairs are all important pieces of this assembly. Assassins, magic and a couple of twists and turns are served on the side, adornments making the story more interesting.

However, as it was the case with the first volume of the Elves series the limited space accessible for these comic books turns “The Honor of the Sylvan Elves” into a story without depth. The mechanics behind the plot are restricted in order to be contained within the pages of the present volume. Even the small elements used in the support of the tale are barely scratched and every single aspect of the story is more left unexplored rather than surveyed to satisfactory needs. I could not shake the feeling that what could have been a captivating adventure becomes just a feeble endeavor because of the very tight space in which Nicolas Jarry has to develop a complete story.

Sadly, for me, neither the art of Gianluca Maconi works in favor of “The Honor of the Sylvan Elves”, most of the panels are unimpressive and there is little to be had out of the illustrations. Despite of a few of them being acceptable and showing promise, from my point of view most of them are rather schematically treated, with no panel being able to hold my gaze for longer than a couple of moments. I was left largely unimpressed by the final result, among the characters, settings and fighting scenes I could find only a few that I liked quite a bit, but I cannot honestly say that the art of “The Honor of the Sylvan Elves” is what I’d count among my preferences. Diogo Saïto’s coloring saves the situation a bit, it sets nicely the tone and atmosphere of the panels, but I am afraid it does too little to shake my general opinion of the comic book’s art.

Although part of a larger series and universe Nicolas Jarry and Gianluca Marconi’s comic book is independent from the first volume,“The Crystal of the Blue Elves”, as each new album of the Elves series is, but in comparison with that first entry I felt “The Honor of the Sylvan Elves” took a tumble for the worse. It is not a bad comic book, it provided me with a quick and fun reading, but no more than that and certainly without demanding another one.

Review – “Moon Scars” by Ángel Luis Sucasas

Moon Scars“Moon Scars” by Ángel Luis Sucasas

Translated by James Womack

Published by Nevsky Books

Review copy received through the courtesy of the publisher

There are countless worlds at my disposal through speculative fiction and there is a world around me waiting to be discovered. And when these two meet I wish to be able to explore the speculative works of writers of different nationalities, to see how their local influences leek into their writings. I am perfectly aware that aspects like translation, market and costs are very important to this process and make my wish a bit difficult to be granted. But I will not venture into this discussion here. Still, things are moving forward and there are publishers such Nevsky Books that make it possible to read in English authors such as the Spanish Ángel Luis Sucasas and books such as his short story collection “Moon Scars”.

“A Tale of the White Lady” – During a usual hunt Ivetta, the youngest member of a pack of three werewolves, wishes to adopt the small baby found within the hunted human group as the new member of the pack. And when finally Mikhail, the leader of the pack, accepts and transforms little Kolya, their life together is changed dramatically. The story is seen from the middle of the pack of werewolves and it approaches them not as the traditional monsters, although this side is not dismissed entirely, but as a family, both as a whole and individually through each member, with their personality, dreams, desires and flaws. The picture is completed by connecting this pack to an entire community of werewolves, spread worldwide, a link that adds elements of religion, folklore, traditions, rules and politics, without losing sight of the world of humans. And it is once again in the direct relation with our world where the table is turned, the humans look more like monstrous creatures than this peaceful, to a point, little pack of werewolves. It is a tale of love, betrayal and revenge, without clear good or bad characters, but with lively protagonists driven by strong emotions and facing their own personal tragedy.

“The Offering” – A toymaker, whose life was struck by recent tragedy, petitions to Ismina, the goddess of justice, in search of answers and pledges himself to the will of the gods. “The Offering” is a fantasy story and features a few of the traditional high-fantasy and grimdark characteristics, but the author boosts them with enough ingredients of his own making to render it originality. The end result is an outstanding and impressive world-building, especially since it is done in the restricted confines offered by the length of the short story. The setting and plot left me wishing for more stories set in the same environment, even more so since Ángel Luis Sucasas hits the high note from the beginning of the tale and hardly misses a bit.

“It is the day of the madmen. And the city of Taris is celebrating it in every street, park, square and alley. Parents are crying and moaning as their children drag them around on leashes like dogs, giving them harsh commands and kicking them in the ribs with sharp iron boots. The lord of the city, Indras, is wearing a clown’s rags and is entertaining Gulhag, the king of the beggars, and his court of the crippled and dumb. Women are dressed as men and men as women. A young elf is the most depraved participant in the palace orgies, and nobles offer up their daughters’ virtue to the imps’ eager and lustful members.”

“The Day I Refused an Empire” – Retired men, unwilling to undertake a rejuvenating process, go through the junk washed up on the shores of their place of living in search of materials from which to craft their trinkets. When the protagonist of the story discovers a woman with silver skin of the shore he ends up witnessing horrors and marvels alike. Humanity is not painted in a flattering image here, from the elders stranded on the brink of existence to everything sacrificed in the name of technological advancement there is little to be proud of in the future society described in this story.

“The world of volcanoes and lightning. Primordial soup. Cells dividing. The first creature to abandon the water. Exuberant jungles, and titans with scales and warm blood. Man, knowing for the first time who he is. History, wars and ruin and hope and glory. The conquest of the stars. The universe. And in parallel, the ones we have forgotten or exterminated. Ogres, imps, elves and fairies; naiads, nymphs, krakens and sirens. Dragged from their homes. Transformed into articles of enjoyment, of fun or sacrifice for man, the most cruel of all the beasts.”

A cross of sci-fi, fantasy and lovecraftian fiction “The Day I Refused an Empire” is also a thought provoking story on the choices one makes and the humankind’s relationship with the world and universe around it.

“Farewell” – At her sixteenth birthday Manika must leave Promisedland forever, but Tristan, her younger brother, has difficulties in accepting the situation, although it is one of the unbreakable rules set by the Architect for the inhabitants of this land. There is a new order in “Farewell”, new rules set into place, the world is reshaped and childhood and adulthood are inverted, while the chasm separating the two is wider and deeper. And all is due to the vision of the Architect, it is never clearly stated who he actually is but his identity is not important to the plot anyway. What the Architect didn’t manage to change are the emotions, happiness, sorrow, nostalgia and heartbreak have remained very much the same.

Ángel Luis Sucasas crafts worlds with unbelievable ease. There are only four short stories in “Moon Scars”, but there is an abundance of imaginings that spans far beyond its slim appearance. But plot and characters are not sacrificed on the altar of creativity, the stories are filled to the brim with emotions and conflict too, the story lines and the feelings of the protagonists are as important as the settings of the tales. “Moon Scars” is one of those volumes that make me fall in love with speculative fiction all over again.