A group on a self-imposed mission to track down abducted villagers winds up battling deadly creatures and an evil of unspeakable power in this series-opening debut fantasy.
Having provided a trader with safe passage to Bridgeton, five now out-of-work friends head to Westover, birthplace for one of them: Arden. Though Arden’s family left the town when he was a boy, he wishes to pay respects to his ancestors. His traveling companions include Gnome, Ohlen, Ruprecht, and sole female X’andria, all of whom have special abilities and some of whom know magic. Tragically, they find Westover in ruins, but among the bodies is a survivor, Rowena, who claims the villagers were attacked and killed by pig/human hybrids. Ultimately declaring these beasts goblins, the group journeys west, convinced that some of the still-living townspeople are hostages in need of rescue. Fierce battles with the goblins ensue, and Ohlen believes that a black orb they’ve discovered, which harbors “an evil will within,” is in some way responsible for the beasts’ recent deeds. Once inside the creatures’ lair, Gnome and the others encounter prisoner Boudreaux in the process of escaping. But saving the Westoverans entails reaching an exit while steadfastly steering clear of what Boudreaux decrees a doorway to hell. The kinetic tale is a series of seemingly unending confrontations between the friends and goblins. Hinsley, however, provides sustenance with increasingly sinister villains, like a hooded figure of dark magic and a headlining tentacled monster. Characters’ origins, too, are largely— and curiously—ambiguous. There are quite a few elflike pointy ears, but X’andria and Gnome met years ago as orphans, and aside from Gnome’s short stature and confirmation that he’s neither elf nor human, he remains a mystery. Individual skills add further depth, even when not preternatural (for example, Arden is an apt scouter and tracker). Despite beaucoup clashes, the violence is generally muted, courtesy of Hinsley’s lyrical style: “He was a thing of terrible beauty to behold as his blades cut….” Garretsen’s stunning black-and-white artwork precedes each chapter, both complementing the narrative and teasing images to come, like an ominous empty room.
A delightful tale of magic and monsters that subverts genre expectations with characters both familiar and equivocal.