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Artesia: Book of Dooms Volume 1    by Mark Smylie order for
by Mark Smylie
Order:  USA  Can
Archaia Studios Press, 2003 (2003)
* *   Reviewed by Lance Victor Eaton

In the tradition of Red Sonja and Xena, Artesia stands as a strong, bold, powerful leader who fights both physically and magically against her enemies to bring her army to victory again and again. Filled with action, adventure, political intrigue, strategy, and much more, this graphic novel grips readers' attention from beginning to end.

Smylie's initial graphic novel in this intended epic fantasy saga finds Artesia with her army on the brink of battle, praying to her goddesses for the divine will to win the day. Her uncanny ability to speak to supernatural beings, particularly deities, has helped her rise in rank to be a confidante, concubine, and military captain to Branimir. Yet, Branimir has lost his faith in Artesia's goddesses and allies himself with a patriarchal religion dominated by priests and male deities. Warned by her spirit guides, Artesia braces for the attack and survives the battle, though not without casualties. Now, she must decide her place in a world where wars are raging, political leaders are changing, and borders are being redrawn.

In the beginning of this graphic novel, Artesia reads as a Joan of Arc character, but one who lived to her full potential and did not die at the stake. Many references and points of comparison can be found in this analogy. Engaging, provocative, haunting, and chilling imagery intermingle throughout this book with a great use of intermixing watercolors to provide a dreary atmosphere. Smylie stands consistent with his background ambience as he transitions from scene to scene so that readers easily interpret whether Artesia is about to fight or interact with some supernatural being.

Smylie takes liberties with his chapter titles, often using familiar references that, while amusing, aren't always the best choice for each chapter. Given that his desire is to make this graphic novel series into an epic fantasy sustained in its own world, referencing other works seems to detract from his goal. Titles like 'Walking the Line' (Chapter 1), 'The Lion, the Witch, and Her Wardrobe' (Chapter 5), and 'The Path Taken' (Chapter 6), do provide insight to the chapter, but feel misappropriated. However the artwork for the double-page chapter introductions certainly captures reader's attention, giving them reason to pause as they take in the vivid imagery.

Though it's filled with elements that could slant readership towards women, men too will find themselves fully engrossed in this book. With detailed appendices of religion and history, Artesia achieves what Smylie intends, the first in what will hopefully be a long run of epic graphic novels.

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