Page 45 Review by Stephen
Oh, this positively glows - it glows red and purple!
It's a formidable artist who can slash out choking-smoke nightmares that are both amorphous and fully formed: to be as intangible as a shadow yet as vicious as jagged rows of sharp sharks' teeth, their eyes and mouths blazing with fire as if furnaces fuel their pitch-black souls.
Basically, I'd run.
But where do you run to when you're trapped in the Umbral? The only apertures in this other dimension are riddled with skeletal spikes like a giant lamprey's mouth and risk snapping shut like a Venus Flytrap. The ground could give way any minute. And Rascal is not alone in there.
Fans of PORCELAIN are going to lap this up.
A solar eclipse approaches the kingdom of Fendin. On such an occasion the day dawns twice and then, the songs say, "Shall the dark shadows fall". The crowds are gathering to see King Petor and Queen Inna wave from the balcony to reassure them that all is well. More specifically they want to see the Mordent - a staff that has survived three rebellions, two wars and dozens of King Petor's ancestors - grasped by King Petor, safe and sound. Petor is fretting; the more confident, no-nonsense Inna is irritated at the absence of their son.
Their son is Prince Arthir and he
has a date. A date with young orphan Rascal, raised by smugglers and trained by thieves. Oh, it's not that sort of date, though they are more than a little fond of each other. Rascal is a member of the Thieves' Guild and she has acquired a vial of the Mist. That will help them steal through the trophy room's cage and acquire the sacred Oculus, a purple orb whose true purpose has been "lost to time and myth". But whatever it was that spell-caster Prince Arthur intended to do with the Oculus is rendered irrelevant, for the Oculus is missing and high Redguard Borus lies slaughtered in his own congealing blood. Worse still, the trail of blood looks like it leads to the throne room
As for what follows, the nimble, quick-thinking and ever resourceful Rascal is in for some mind-melting shocks and a run for her bloody life. She runs full-pelt throughout most of this book through caverns and taverns, trusting few who come near. The Umbral are shape-shifters, you see, and they've been here before. Some of them never left.
This is dark fantasy and world-building at its best: power struggles are already in play by the time it kicks off, some of them going back centuries if not millennia. You will learn why magic and religion are illegal, which wars are still raging and the origin of the Umbral themselves; but crucially you are going to have to wait a full six chapters to do so. A series seeking to prove its own cleverness by bludgeoning you with everything immediately and all at once only bogs itself down and can bore early readers to bits. Instead this thunders along at a furious pace giving Rascal little time to take stock. You learn as she learns, and I hope she learns fast because some of those she once trusted are not as they seem.
Old man Dalone has me most intrigued but it's the one-eyed smuggler called Shayim who makes me laugh, flashing her blade at everyone and everything:
"I will open you up from mouth to moon."
She has a colourful way with words.
John Rauch, Jordan Boyd and Thomas Mauer provide the colours and lettering and the whole package is exquisitely designed. I'm completely in love with the symbol language of spell casting which manifests itself as crimson, purple and yellow speech orbs. Also, wait until you discover the subterranean Mistwalker merged with the rock to guard its treasures. It's like something out of early Tombraider: you can tell Johnston also writes games.
He's also a dab hand at dialogue which is both effortlessly entertaining and deliciously free from the sort of portentous claptrap and mystical mumbo jumbo other occult-orientated series bore me with. The Umbral swear like nobody's business.
Johnston & Mitten are the creative team behind the fast-closing, post-apocalyptic WASTELAND about which Warren Ellis declared, "Mysteries within mysteries and an original mythology to become immersed in". Antony is also the manipulative mastermind behind spy thriller THE COLDEST CITY whose 50 exclusive Page 45 bookplate editions we sold out of very, very quickly and £7-50 for six issues is an absolute steal.