Dwarves Vol: 1 Redwin of the Forge
By Nicolas Jarry, Ar by Pierre Denis Goux
“Our great art must be expressed through life.” Ulrog the blacksmith
I was bopping around the internet when an advertisement for comixology popped up letting me know they were having a fantasy comic sale where I could grab a bunch of graphic novels for $2.99. I've never heard of the series on sale (Dwarves and another series called Elves, not exactly the most descriptive title but there you go) but what the hell, so I dropped $15 and got 7 graphic novels. Not a bad trade. I wasn't expecting much but this time I got lucky. Dwarves was published in 2016 by Delcourt comics, if you've never heard of them, the reason for that is simple: they're a French company and Dwarves is a French comic. Delcourt is the 3rd largest publisher of Frenco-Belgian comics with about 480 publications in a year. It was founded in 1986 through the union of two magazines. The comic Dwarves was written by Nicolas Jarry, a French novelist and comic book writer who prefers writing fantasy. He was born in 1976, studied biology in Bordeaux and worked in a bookshop before committing to writing. He's been accredited in about 119 distinct works since he's been published. All that having been said, let's get to the comic itself.
Dwarves is, obviously, set in a fantasy world and is concerned with the workings of dwarven society and with dwarven characters. There are some interesting breaks from tradition here; the dwarves live above ground divided into fortress-states but unified by orders that function as guilds maintaining the interests and knowledge of their craft across borders. Our main character Redwin and his father Ulrog belong to the order of the Forge. The order of the Forge is a powerful and wealthy one because as you might imagine not only do they forge all the weapons and tools needed for society to function but they have also have a monopoly on the runes that grant magical powers to those same tools and weapons. Of course while the order is wealthy and powerful, not all of it's members share equally in the wealth. Ulrog the master blacksmith is not a well regarded or respected dwarf because of his refusal to forge arms or armor. Instead he makes tools, toys and art from the metal and stone he works with at his forge. His son Redwin is less than thrilled by his father's stubborn refusal, he not only wants to become a weaponsmith but wants to become a powerful warrior. Not just a warrior, but figure of power, respect and fear, a Runelord. Runelords are warrior smiths that fight duels that decide legal disputes between the fortress states, preventing all out war and providing something of a blood sport. There's a bit of frustrating realism thrown into this conflict in that Ulrog never really explains himself nor do find out what if any events led him to his position. We learn that he did forge some weapons in his youth but stopped for reasons unknown leading to a rift between Ulrog and his own father. This makes the conflict between Redwin and Ulrog faintly ironic in a way but also more real. Redwin wants to be a traditional dwarf, glorying in arms and combat and Ulrog while standing against that never really explains why beyond a short speech about how such violence is a poison to the soul and no way to run a society. I found this realistic because it's very often that I see parents failing to properly explain their beliefs and reasons to their children, often assuming that because they raised those same children that they magically absorbed their parents reasoning. For that matter by making Ulrog something of a mystery even to his only son, it does reflect how for many children large stretches of their parents lives are unknown and hard to imagine.
Additionally we have the conflict between Redwin and the local bully boy Rom, who receives everything that Redwin wants. Training in the martial arts, in battle runes and how to create weapons of death and destruction, and misuses those gifts by beating up Redwin and sneering at everyone else. Rom is a living example of why if you're going to teach someone violence, you need to teach them the why and when of it. Learning how to fight without learning some moral code that teaches you when to fight, who to fight, and what to fight for simply creates thugs and brutes. These thugs often enough let themselves grow lazy by simply bullying those who can't fight back. Redwin himself comes to display that when he falls in with his uncle Jarsen, a wealthy and powerful member of the Order of the Forge who takes Redwin's training into dark and dangerous places. Jarsen realizes that Redwin doesn't have time to catch up to people training to fight since they could walk and simply teaches Redwin how to kill, and frankly Redwin is very good at it. That said the violence, while coming in fast and often as Redwin sinks deeper and deeper into a lifestyle of debauchery and state endorsed brutality, it's not the main conflict of this book. Hell, the appearance of a trio of demon possessed mages attacking the dwarves homes isn't the main focus of the book. Which is likely just as well as we've all read the story of a the great war to drive back demons in fantasy. The main conflict and story here is the conflict between father and son and how far a loving father will go to protect his child, even when that child has spit in his face and rejected him. While Motherhood is a great thing and deserves to have books written about it, I think it's a good thing to have a story praising fatherhood. Also I like this way of presenting a good parent, I’m going to pick on J.K. Rowling here but Ulrog is actually a character in this story… Lily Potter isn’t, she’s a combination of plot device and platonic image. Think about it, James Potter had flaws, he changed and grew and Harry’s understanding of him did as well. Not so much Lily who was always presented as this perfect mother figure/perfect woman. This honestly made her less believable as a character and a person. Whereas Ulrog’s faults and emotional outbursts when dealing with his son Redwin did makes him a believable person and character, that actually draws a reader in more than being told how great and wonderful a person was.
There's a lot of blood and fighting in this book and there are scenes of topless female nudity so this is definitely not a book to hand to a child. That said, the art is very good and the story is a good one as well. We are pulled along with Redwin in a downward spiral that he has no idea how to stop and isn't sure that he wants to stop or accelerate to the rock bottom. I've read it several times now and I still enjoy it. For that reason I am giving Redwin of the Forge an A, every now and again you get lucky and find something awesome when you go digging. I would really like to see a translation for a physical copy of this series someday and frankly if this is what we can expect from French writers, we might want to see what can be done to bring more of their works to the States…
This Review Edited by Dr. Ben Allen