Friday, March 17, 2017

Ravine II Written by Stjepan Sejic and Ron Marz

Ravine II
Written by Stjepan Sejic and Ron Marz

Have you ever wanted to like something but just couldn't bring yourself to? Ravine is the epic fantasy creation of Mr. Sejic and Mr. Marz. I've discussed Mr. Sejic and Mr. Marz in prior reviews so I'll just get to Ravine itself. It's a very interesting setting with a lot of things happening in it, many of them are very interesting.  Some of these interesting things even get to be in this story, which is kind of the problem here. Ravine looks and feels like a very dense setting with a lot of moving parts and the story doesn't really give us time to discover the setting or really understand it. It's kinda like if JRR Tolkien had started his stories of Middle Earth in the middle of The Two Towers and expected us all to just catch up. To be fair some very gifted writers can actually pull that off with a combination of engaging characters and well crafted plot. Here on the other hand... It's the end of Volume II and I still have no idea what the main bad guys of the piece actually want or a vague idea of their plan other than kill things with dragon like monsters and make ponderous speeches about fate and sacrifice. Additionally the characters are a mixed bag.

Our main character is still Stein (although thankfully Lynn is still there) and I still don't like him. A lot of the problem with Stein is his presentation, I constantly get other people telling me how awesome Stein is, or lamenting how awful a burden he carries. You see, Stein is also “The Reaper” a powerful magic user who can use entropy to destroy and decay. The Reaper is a morally ambiguous figure as he's primarily known for destroying cities and armies. But that doesn't mean he is unwelcome everywhere he goes. For example, when they arrive at Wade, a city state that is independent mostly due to the efforts and power of Stein, we get a random character who has the power to see how many people you've killed. As you can guess that character mostly stands around talking to other characters about how terrible and awful Stein's life might be. This is filler, it serves no real point in furthering the plot and doesn't tell us anything new. Plus he's not exactly isolated or hated in Wade; he's welcomed into the royal palace, he gets to have dinner with the ruler of the city, and he runs into friends who are happy to see him and help him. The issue becomes less that Stein is forever cut off and isolated from his fellow men by his “dark burden” and more that Stein is unable to confront and accept that part of himself and learn to live with it. While he does carry around some rather intensely destructive power (in addition to being practically invincible and carrying a super-power magical weapon) that only makes him feel more like an edgy fan fiction character. I mean, he has friends all over the place but keeps talking about how isolated he is. His dialogue when he uses his power doesn't help, nor does his insistence that his travel mate Lynn never see him use it. For that matter part of it may be that I read Death Vigil first where he approaches a character with Stein's abilities much more maturely and makes much better use of them. Honestly, this leaves Stein looking like a prototype for a much better and more interesting character but that might just be me.

As for Lynn I like her a lot more than I like Stein. That said she could also use some work, what with with the whole “being a secret heir to the throne who was hidden and raised as an orphan in a foreign land for reasons” thing. We learn this was because her entire family was wiped out in a plague and if Lynn dies or is somehow disinherited, another branch of the family will rule: a branch known for it's fervent support of the The Church of Damanal, for those of you who didn't read the first Ravine review (link here) or have forgotten, Damanal is a god imprisoned under a mountain for reasons unknown. His church has been growing in secular power recently as their worship spreads across the allied states. The various kings and lords are working to maintain a balance of power to keep the Church of Damanal from turning all the allied states into de facto theocracies. If Lynn takes the throne of the country she hasn't seen for most of her life she maintains that balance (as you might guess I find their plan for maintaining her safety slightly flawed), if her distant cousin does then the majority of nations will be controlled from under the mountain. Lynn herself is actually fun and interesting though, even if she is as thick as two short planks sometimes.  However, that's a common character flaw in fantasy protagonists, especially in an author's early stories. To be fair David Eddings would defend this by pointing out that by making your main character ignorant of the world around them, you could educate the reader by simply having someone educate the main character. While her backstory is actually rather standard (secret hidden orphan heir! Complete with magic powers!) her personality is fun and at times funny, that will carry you a good distance.

Several other characters are given time in the volume but I honestly kind of consider it a waste as Volume II is the last entry in the Ravine series as far as I can find. Which is a shame because the setting is actually good. While most of the elements aren't new here, the way they're put together is at least stimulating. This is a problem with doing epic fantasy in something like a comic series, unless you can ensure a long enough run time to really explore your setting, you end up with a story that drowns in it. Additionally a neat setting isn't enough to make up for rather lackluster characters. It’s easier to do this kinda stuff in a novel (where you have the space to tell a complete story) or a webcomic (which you can keep going by simply finding a place to post your comics and keep working). If you are going to tell the story in a comic, focus on a single contained story that can lead your readers to the setting (Last week's comic Redwin of the forge did that magnificently if you ask me). In short get your readers hooked on the characters and the plot first, then you can tool around in your lush, dense fantasy setting. This story simply wasn't focused enough, nor it's characters engaging enough to keep things going.

Sadly I'll have to give Ravine by Stjepan Sejic and Ron Marz C-. An interesting setting just isn't enough to make up for lackluster characters and a struggling plot. It's not terrible to read but... We can all do better. I honestly want to give it a higher grade, but on this review series I give you the grade you have earned. There's talent in here but it's in dire need of more practice, which thankfully Mr. Sejic got. Go read Death's Vigil for an example of what Mr. Sejic can do with some more practice. Next week we go into strange distant corners with Monsteress by Majorie Liu. Keep reading!   

This review edited by Dr. Ben Allen.

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