Release Date: 23rd September 2017 (Thought Bubble)
Originally released as a webcomic at www.eimuriantales.co.uk, “The Shattered” is the second volume of Mark Penman’s ongoing ‘Eimurian Tales’ saga, and it goes on sale at Thought Bubble this weekend.
Before we get started, it’s worth clarifying that this second volume stands completely independent from the first, so there’s absolutely no need to read them sequentially. Which is kind of a good thing for me, given the fact that I’m jumping into this upcoming release without any prior knowledge of the Eimurian Tales.
“The Shattered” tells the story of Malwynn, a teenage boy who finds himself living in the shadow of his bitter, abusive father, forced to continually provide him with a supply of ale to satiate his thirst – and, hopefully, to calm his temper at the same time. One day however, Malwynn makes a startling discovery in the form of a strange young girl named Dythur who appears from a portal in the woods. The two gradually bond, but with her being a Shadir – a race that has been at war with his people for generations – the pair seem headed for a showdown with the entire village, Malwynn’s father included, when word of her arrival gets out.
There’s an old-timey ‘fairy tale’ vibe to the story that I really got a kick out of, and Penman uses a measured pace throughout, gradually immersing you in the rich world he has created. Before you really know what’s happening, you’re already thirty or forty pages deep into the story, utterly engrossed in Malwynn’s story, which is a tremendous accomplishment when you’re trying to introduce a whole new world from scratch while still telling an interesting tale.
As strong as the pacing and world-building is, perhaps the most impressive aspect of The Shattered is the way that it manages to feel like part of a larger, epic-scale story while still remaining completely self-contained. Penman uses exposition sparingly, giving subtle nods to the larger world while keeping the focus squarely on Malwynn and his difficult situation. I’m sure there are call-backs to the first volume along the way, but I never felt like I was missing out by not having read it (although that said, I enjoyed this volume so much that I immediately sought out and dove into the first as soon as I’d finished).
Penman’s artwork is solid throughout, becoming exceptional during the soaring storyline beats which frequently punctuate his narrative. It’s a slightly cartoony, slightly stylised approach filled with plenty of shadows and heavy inks, but he manages to pack a lot of emotion into his pages, particularly on the face of Malwynn himself. The lettering is worthy of additional praise, particularly the way Dythur speaks, gradually adapting her own foreign tongue into a rough approximation of English. Action is used sparingly, with the occasional shocking flourish punctuating what is an otherwise heavily character-driven story, but the approach works well, giving us an emotionally investing tale rather than the usual swords and sorcery slash-em-up.
Readers who’ve had their fill of played-out fantasy tales may initially be put off by what appears on the surface to be yet another cookie-cutter offering, but for those who persevere, it won’t take them too long to realise that The Shattered is a whole other animal entirely. Remarkably polished for a self-published webcomic, this is a story packed with a surprising amount of emotional heft. And , in spite of the fantastical beings and dimension-spanning rifts, this is very much an intimate coming-of-age story about a young man dealing with his own guilt and the abusive relationship he has with his father. Fantastic stuff, and proof – if proof were needed – that I really need to start checking out more webcomics.
The Shattered will be available at next weekend’s Thought Bubble Festival in Leeds, but if you can’t make it, it’ll be on the Eimurian Tales online store soon after.