I’ve seen Alejandro Jodorowsky’s film Holy Mountain sometime in college, and I liked the film. He’s definitely not someone who makes anything without an abstract strangeness to it. So, when I happened to see this on the bookshelf, I thought I would give it a chance. I love raw violence and frank sexuality in fantasy. Royal Blood is a fantasy story without the elves, dragons, and sorcery that we’ve become accustomed to within the genre, but it does contain magical properties to it that seems to be an easy grab for any religious low fantasy reader.
The story is about King Alvor who is left for dead by his cousin, Alfred after a battle. Alvor orders Alfred to take his armor and places him in charge of leading his men to victory after he suffers an arrow to the chest. They are of similar build and looks, so it was an easy switch (and no one has seen Alfred’s face before). Alfred uses this as his chance to take the throne and rubs mud into Alvor’s wound to ensure his death. While dying, he is saved by a hunchback named Batia who takes him back to her cave and heals him. Delirious, he mistakes her for his beautiful wife, Violena.
And sex ensues.
Yes, you read right.
Batia takes him as the husband that she longed for and father to her child, while Alvor sees her as his wife until he snaps out of his delusion after ten years. That is the most I can say without giving away too many spoilers, and that’s in the first sixteen pages.
Before I continue with my ramblings and criticisms, I have to say, the art is GORGEOUS. Dongzi Liu is a master of the human body and atmosphere. And to be honest, it’s the best part of the comic. When characters are having sex, it doesn’t look cartoony to the point of cringe, it feels real. The women are beautiful, the men are intense and handsome. Depictions of war and murder are gruesome. I was debating about buying it, but the artwork won me over. I could stare at it all day in its beauty, and brutal honesty.
The antagonists are shown to be pale and their features sharp. It reminds me of the pulp fantasy novels from the 70’s that I would see in used bookstores. Nothing was more epic than opening the page to see war in all its savage glory. I would say it’s worth the purchase for the art alone. Now I’m starting to debate how I can take some of the panels and blow them up for a portrait in my room.
Anyway, I’ve done enough rambling about the artwork. The storyline is… insane. I’ll say it again. Insane. As events toss and turn, it’s definitely not boring. The more I read, and the more I tried to guess what would happen next, the more I threw my hand up and mumbled obscenities. Mostly the phrase; “What the hell is going on?” It’s confusing. And most of the twists came from the decisions of Alvor himself.
Alvor is a very emotionally unstable man who is prone to showing acts of kindness and brutality. Everything from taking out tongues of children, to stabbing men of God. Nothing will stop him from getting his way or reminding others that he’s the king. As a protagonist, he flips between an Anti-Hero to Villain Protagonist in a matter of pages. Sometimes panels. Admittedly, he’s a scary man for a king.
The dialogue is very purple prose and it spent more time telling the audience what the characters thoughts, emotions and reasons, rather than showing it. It’s the complete opposite of Holy Mountain which had very little dialogue, and relied mostly on visuals and interpretations.
The pace of the story was rushed. One moment Alvor and his daughter, Sambra are sword fighting, the next they’re on the ground –together– mid coitus, and then he looks upon her face and realizes that she’s his daughter. Sometimes, I had to read the dialogue and panels over again to use my context clues to figure out, what the hell was going on.
I could see what it was trying to achieve. But it feels like it was written by someone who had no idea what to do and just decided to keep rolling with it. I wished Jodorowsky took his time and made it a three parter. Besides Alvor, I felt as if I knew hardly any of the characters. Several characters come and go, and some of them have promising introductions, such as the blind herder Florian. Even the hunchback, Batia was interesting enough that made me want to know more about the relationship between her and the ten year bewitched Alvor.
And it left too many questions unanswered.
Why did Alfred want Alvor dead if he had been loyal before? To become king, sure, but did he plan this? Why did he plan it? How long has he had been planning it? Was he casually waiting for Alvor to break a toe in battle so he come impersonate him? Why wait for him to die slow? Did he spit in Alfred’s cereal? Why didn’t he just stab him and try to finish him off? I’m fine with interpretations and open ended stories, but it makes it easier if I know and understand characters who are complex and three dimensional.
And then there’s the cliff hanger which leaves room for a sequel.
But despite this, I enjoyed the political intrigue, the artwork and the subtle instances of magic that are persistent in the story. There’s so much room for there to be more story in the 100+ pages. I hope that Jodorowsky plans to do more with it. As I said before, I wasn’t bored. It’s worth the read just for the plot twists and art alone. It’s one of those books that you have to see to believe. In fact, I’m resisting the urge to talk more about it because I want to hear other people’s reactions to the graphic novel. And much to my disappointment, there’s not a lot of talk on it according to my research.
So, what did you think about Royal Blood? Did you read or are you thinking about it? And if you did, what did you like/dislike? If there was a sequel, would you read it?
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