Writer: Sharon Shinn
Illustrator: Molly Knox Ostertag
Publisher: First Second
This is a tale of resistance. And not the kind of open rebelling that the Resistance has done through most of Star Wars episodes VII and VIII, but it involves pretty gritty surviving, plotting, as well as striking and fading.
Set in an unspecified time on a distant world to which humanity somehow spread, Shattered Warrior revolves around a few individuals living under the yoke of the Derichet – a humanoid species that has conquered their world.
Think an orc crossed with an elf, with the savagery of one and aloofness of the other, and you have a general idea of a Derichet.
The graphic novel, by fantasy novelist Sharon Shinn with artwork by Molly Knox Ostertag (the webcomic Strong Female Protagonist), picks up a few years after the Derichet invasion and conquest.
Humanity is well and truly enslaved. Those who have accepted their fate eke out a bare-bones living as manual labourers, processing the prized ore that the Derichet have come for. The Derichet allow them to live reasonably undisturbed in exchange for their service.
Troublemakers either get executed or sent to the mines.
Other humans live free as wandering gangs, the Chromatti, who are capable of acts as inhuman as those of their conquerors.
And there’s an unspoken group, kind of like Fight Club – the Valenchi, resistance fighters whose existence no one will acknowledge ... not even its own members.
The world-building in Shattered Warrior is deftly done, and it doesn’t take too long for Shinn and Ostertag to establish the precarious existence of the conquered, the harsh circumstances they must endure, and the casual arrogance of the occupying forces.
We see this world through the eyes and suffering of Colleen Cavenaugh, whose family used to be wealthy high-society folk.
With her kinfolk either dead or missing, Colleen lives alone in her crumbling manor and works at a Derichet factory.
But things happen in the course of the story that slowly fuel her sense of purpose – giving her not just something to live for, but to fight for as well.
To say any more would be to give away critical plot developments, so let it suffice to say that Colleen’s struggle, and that of the people who come to matter in her life, is made surprisingly relatable.
Ostertag’s panels may seem simple and sparse, sometimes appearing to be mere sketches, but they actually have a nice fluidity that propels the story along nicely.
And that story is a nifty piece of work by Shinn, who does not sugar-coat things. In circumstances like these, no one remains an angel. Even the protagonists are exploitative, making use of anything at hand – even other people – to achieve their ends. And many a time, there is no pleasant outcome.
If there’s a glaring negative aspect to this tale, it is that you more or less know how the whole thing is going to turn out.
But it’s the little surprises Shinn scatters along the way that make this noteworthy. A better conquered-and-conqueror tale from this publisher was last year’s The Nameless City, though this one is no less readable.
Shattered Warrior is available at Kinokuniya, Suria KLCC. Call 03-2164 8133 or e-mail: email@example.com.