Science Fantasy is a sub-genre you don’t hear a lot about, especially in the mainstream. Where you usually find it is in prose–novels, short stories, etc.–but not normally in other forms of media. Show me a recent movie where they melded dragons or mythical creatures, brave knights, with futuristic technology which encompasses interstellar travel and/or artificial intelligence. You can’t, can you?
Sci fi authors like Marion Zimmer Bradley and Gene Wolfe explored this sub-genre with very successful results with Bradley creating her Darkover series and Wolfe’s amazing story of Severin the Torturer’s Apprentice in his series The Book of the New Sun. These two grand masters of science fiction brought a lot of attention to their genre-mashing works; garnering awards within their respected community of peers. And now, more and more, I see elements of Science Fantasy appearing in other forms of media like Studio Ghibli’s Howl’s Moving Castle by legendary Hayao Miyazaki and, now, Humanoids Publishing’s latest offering, The Swords of Glass.
“…the enormous glass sword strapped to the little girl’s back within the covers illustration does make one pause.”
Simply put, the artwork in this over-sized edition is gorgeous! To illustrators this is reason enough to purchase but I would even encourage graphic novelists looking for inspiration to give Curgiat and Zuccheri’s book a serious chance. I must admit, the cover intrigued me but didn’t draw me in immediately because you get a child fantasy image staring back at you. Nevertheless, upon further scrutiny, the enormous glass sword strapped to the little girl’s back within the covers illustration does make one pause. What’s this about? becomes the question. Next thing I knew, I was taking it home.
My initial impression of the story was one of concern because if there’s one trope
of fantasy novels I can’t stand are the Coming-of-Age fantasy stories. You know the ones. The fantasy novels where a pig-farmer’s son–or daughter–finds out they’re adopted and really a powerful wizard or knight. Or a young girl (or boy)–no matter what their social class–becomes a prophecy’s Chosen One to save their village or city or lands or planet or universe, take your pick. And then there’s the quests. The endless quests. Usually they are for a sword or hammer or talisman or god to awaken and could take many novels to reach their conclusions. I wish the gods of fantasy fiction would protect us from the endless quests but in some circles, they are mandatory. Unfortunately, this is how Curgiat’s The Swords of Glass starts out. But if one were to say it’s something we’ve already seen before, they didn’t read the book. It goes beyond what at first could be considered cliché in fantasy fiction once the story begins to dive deeper into its plotline.
Of course Yama isn’t turned to glass and when she flees into the forest to hide, she travels a great distance and discovers a hermit who recognizes the sword and realizes Yama is one of the Chosen Ones with three others out in the world to be found and joined together. So far we have covered two tropes of fantasy plot-lines–The Chosen One and a quest–and with them set in place, the journey towards revenge, destiny and survival begins.
And this is only the beginning because there is so much more here than the above synopsis I have given. So much more. I wouldn’t go so far as to say epic in scope and imagination, but it does turn most fantasy tropes in something not so much as thinking outside the box but with a new perspective on how to shape it. Yes, there are Chosen Ones–four actually–but there is a reason for this and when it is revealed, it puts the science in Science Fantasy. And, surprisingly, it makes sense.
I’ve never read any other works by French author, Sylviane Corgiat, but I like the fact she takes Science Fantasy to heart and manages to steer away from the clichés found within fantasy plot-lines by adding the science fiction element to her story through the creatures she creates to populate her world in which The Swords of Glass takes place. She further adds more science fiction elements–especially by the stories resolution–and, suddenly, the fantasy tropes are absorbed, accepted and rise above cliché. Laura Zuccheri’s artwork, character/creature designs, cityscapes and world building within her panels further pulls Corgiat’s story into the sub-genre of Science Fantasy. Hers is not my favorite style of artwork found within Eurocomics but it is a solid fit with Corgiat’s story much like when you put an actor in the right role for the right film meant for their talents–this is a great pairing and I hope they do more together.