On the surface, Sparrowhawk looks like yet another solid, enjoyable all-ages title from the fine folks at BOOM! Studios. However, with a dark undercurrent of tragedy running alongside the eye-popping visuals and fantasy faerie drama, there’s actually a hell of a lot more going on under the hood here than you might think. And with a blurb that describes it as “Victorian fairy Fight Club”, I found myself ravenously consuming the entire five-issue volume in a single sitting.
The story is based around Artemesia, or “Art”, the illegitimate mixed-race daughter of a Naval Captain living in the shadow of a stepmother who abhors her presence in a world that has no time for her. When she’s pulled through a mirror into another realm by an evil Faerie Queen, she finds herself having to fight her way back to place that never really felt like home, and to a sister who she loves more than anything else in the world.
I’ll admit that I didn’t love Ladycastle quite as much as I hoped I would, but series writer Deliah S. Dawson absolutely knocks this one out of the park, delivering an intoxicating story that manages to be both subtle and bombastic, intimate and epic. There’s disquietingly sinister vibe that permeates the narrative as Art is forced to make horrible decision after horrible decision, sacrificing her memory of her sister and being forced to take the lives of a variety of creatures, innocent and guilty alike, in order to summon up the strength to get back home.
There’s a huge amount of struggle here for Art, both internal and external, and the way her duplicitous Wolpertinger guide Crispin leads her along, subtly manipulating her with his misleadingly-phrased truths adds a constant air of menace to the proceedings. The pair meet a colourful cast of characters along the way, including a pacifist demon prince and a hulking, surprisingly articulate giant boar-like creature, but for the most part this is Art’s story alone as she tries to reconcile her desire to return to her sister with the violent acts she has to carry out to do so.
The artwork from Matias Basla is perfectly matched to the tone of the writing, delivering an intriguing fantasy world and packing it with wild creatures and over-the-top violence. There’s more than a hint of Andrew MacLean’s Head Lopper at play here in the balletic swordplay and stylized combat, and the gradual “evolution” of Artemesia as her powers continue to grow with each life she takes provides a strikingly visual manifestation of the dark undercurrent running through the book.
The final sting in the tail is well executed, if a little telegraphed, and adds a feeling of desperate helplessness to the entire situation. Granted, some of the storyline threads fall a little flat, such as the romance between Art and Warren which doesn’t quite feel like it earns its place in the narrative, but for the most part this story crackles with energy, genuine drama and the constant turmoil of watching Art make her difficult decisions.
A gripping story packed with intrigue, emotion and beautifully rendered violence, Sparrowhawk is right up there with Coda as one of the best fantasy books of 2019. Don’t miss out on this one, folks.