Nordguard Book One: Across Thin Ice is an adventure story starring talking animals, but don’t let that Disney-like description fool you into thinking it’s something for kids. The story has blood, excitement and danger, and beautifully painted artwork aplenty.
Within the first few pages of Nordguard Book One: Across Thin Ice, published by Sofawolf.com, we see a score of people getting getting buried alive, more people getting brutally shot and the beginnings of a dark conspiracy. Our first thoughts were: “Wow, this is pretty hardcore for a comic starring a bunch of talking animals”.
Nordguard is an adventure story – played out across three books – set in the snow-covered frontiers of the Northern Territories, a land reminiscent of Alaska in the 1900s. The biggest difference between this world and the Alaska we might recognise is that the population of the Northern Territories consists of walking, talking dogs, bears, bunnies, boars and tigers instead of ordinary humans. (Or so we assume; we haven’t actually been to Alaska lately to verify this.)
However, before any of you think, “Ah-ha, that sounds like something from a Disney film,” we assure you that this is a story more for adults to enjoy; none of the furry characters at any point breaks out into an impromptu song-and-dance number.
After the surprisingly bloody opening completes its job of hinting at the high stakes of the adventure, Across Thin Ice wastes no time in setting up the scene and our main characters. We’re introduced to Pi and her sled-dog team, which includes the cautious point dog London, the irreverent scout Nickel and the new surgeon, McKay. Their job is to set across the perilous wilderness of the Northern Territories to reach Tartok Mine – the unfortunate location from the start of the book – and investigate what’s going on there.
Their adventure wouldn’t be much of one if they weren’t constantly beset by obstacles; their journey is punctuated by encounters with wild tribes, plundered supply caches and, of course, bodies of water covered in thin ice. (One would be correct to assume that they would have to go across it, yes.)
On its own, the story would have already roped us in with its promise of excitement and danger. However, what really sold Nordguard to us is its amazingly beautiful art.
If you’re wondering why Nordguard Book One only clocks in at around 80 pages, it’s because the artists/authors Tess Garman and Teagan Gavet painted every single one of its pages in glorious colour. Every single feature in these pages speaks volumes of the artists’ attention to detail and their ability to bring their world to life; from the texture of the snow, to the subtle changes of colours as the day wears on, to the old-timey knick-knacks in the background of rooms, to the way the sled dogs’ ears move when they’re expressing emotions. (OK, that last part is admittedly very Disney-like.)
As the sled dogs journey across the frozen landscape of the Northern Territories, we’re treated to another facet of Garman and Gavet’s artwork – the beautifully painted landscapes. There are moments in Nordguard where the story segues into silent scenes of the sled dogs simply running across the snow with majestic vistas in the background, and it’s times like these that Nordguard feels like a scenic travelogue or something akin to an animated version of National Geographic.
That is, until we’re snapped back to the dangers of the expedition when unexpected attacks from hostile parties puts everybody’s lives in jeopardy once again.
The narrative does a good job in pacing itself, although we still couldn’t help but pause even in the middle of tense encounters just to admire the scenery.
Across Thin Ice reads like a great first act for an epic action/adventure film – establishing the personality of the characters, the wondrous world setting and the mature tone of the story – but therein lies its problem. It’s just the opening act.
Across Thin Ice is the first of three Nord-guard books, and the next book – Under Dark Skies – is scheduled for release next year. Imagine watching the first third of your favourite Indiana Jones film, and then realising that you’ll only get to see the rest of the movie a year or two later. Yeah, the anticipation is practically murder.
That minor complaint aside, however, we heartily recommend getting into the world of Nordguard Book One: Across Thin Ice might only be 82 pages long, but it’s packed with excitement and amazing artwork. It may take a while before their journey is complete, but you should let Pi and her sled dogs take you on a ride. We’re sure you’ll enjoy the scenic route.
> Nordguard Book One: Across Thin Ice is available at Kinokuniya KLCC.