Pullbox Reviews A. Guardian- A beautifully written & illustrated fantasy

Aylward is the ancient guardian of The Tomb of Livia. When the Northern, Middle, and Southern kingdoms of the Great Sphere plunge into a three-pronged war once again, events are set in motion that will trigger the beginning of the end times, and Aylward will soon find that the fate of the realm is a heavy weight to bear, indeed.

Somewhere in between a sprawling fantasy epic & a complex story of interconnected characters, A. Guardian ticks a lot of boxes as it follows a group of individuals from three opposing kingdoms- Kanoc, Sul, & Thirio. Individually, the players are largely unaware of each other, but united as they all spiral toward a bloody war. A mystery at the center of the story lies hidden behind the doors of the Tomb of Livia, visited only by the reigning king of Kanoc and protected by its imposing guardian, Aylward.

It’s in maintaining the various perspectives that writer Eastin DeVerna shines. The prospect of the coming war takes on different tones, depending on whose eyes the reader is looking through: The Kanoc are the aggressors although their king has his own set of regrets and ideals; the Sul have an almost fatalistic revenge-driven ideology; and the Thirio seem stuck in the middle, showing a more in-tune with nature way of life. DeVerna maintains the different viewpoints without being too heavy-handed or pointing out an obvious villain among them. I’ve been a fan of DeVerna’s near-lyrical writing for a while, and with A. Guardian he seems to have stepped his game up a notch or two.

 Kay Baird’s artwork has a style that brushes (see that? “Brushes”, cuz it’s art) with an almost manga-esque quality, particularly in the character designs and action sequences. The blend works for this story in particular, with its own mix of interwoven plot threads and sudden bursts of violence… and before you start thinking that the emphasis on plot and character bogs the action down, lemme tell ya that is not the case. Baird is more than capable of delivering some quality kills, dismemberments, and miscellaneous maimings. There’s a scene where arrows fly with lethal impact that would make Legolas jealous. But, y’know, all within the bounds of a well-crafted narrative.

Another favorite creative of mine, generally listed under “illustrations” on the credits page, is Shawn Daley. This time around, he’s filling the role of letterer, and proving that he’s more than a bunch of pretty, bordering on spectacular, pictures. Lettering isn’t just about plopping words on a page, and it could be that Daley’s work as an artist gives him a leg up in their placement. Dialogue flows alongside the illustrations, never interrupting the action on the page and always easy to follow.

For all its brutality, A. Guardian never comes over as simply brutal. Its story is thoughtful and introspective in the approach it’s taken, showing an inevitable path to war from differing points of view. I can’t praise the writing of Eastin DeVerna enough, as he always delivers layer on layer of content to dive into. But he’s not the only one delivering. This entire creative team has put a beautiful story out into the world, and any fantasy fan would be advised to give it a try.

Final Score: 12/13

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