by Etienne Paul, CMRO Contributing Writer
Rat Queens, Volume 1
Sass & Sorcery
Written by Kurtis J. Wiebe , Art by Roc Upchurch
Published: May 2014
Why oh why do I never take my own advice? I get my list of books to review, read the titles and mentally order them up into; want to read, not really interested and I have no idea. The first two are easy, the ones I want to read are a pleasure to get through, slightly harder to review because it is difficult writing too many superlatives. The ones I do not want to read are also easy because I can fight my way through them knowing that in a few hours I can let rip with how little I appreciated the loss of my time. However it is the books that give nothing away from their covers and a flick through of the first few pages that get them shunted to the end of the pile.
I actively avoid researching the books in advance, even reading the blurb on the back cover, because I find they can completely ruin any mystery or suspense for the full first half of the book trying to entice people to read it. This book was definitely in the ‘I have no idea’ pile. My advice to myself has always been – review them in exactly the order they arrive in, because otherwise I put off reviews like this and ironically some of the real gems I have read have fitted into this category. This is not another Lazarus or East of West, but it is definitely a really fun book and I put it off for nearly a month because of its silly name.
If anyone has read and enjoyed a webcomic called ‘Order of the Stick’ then this strikes exactly the same humour notes, just with fully fleshed out people rather than adorable stick figures. The book is filled with Dungeons and Dragons allusions and while it is not necessary to get those to enjoy this book, I expect joke lines such as ‘+5 to kill Garys’ would get a few blank looks.
The city of Palisade has numerous adventuring parties with names to match all levels of D&D humour, everything from the very in character ‘Obsidian Darkness’ through the ‘Rat Queens’ and out to the near fourth wall breaking ‘Four Daves.’ In years gone by they were all well respected in the town and it was through their efforts that the local surroundings are safe for travellers, but since they killed off most of the near by monsters and stole all their treasure, they have become bored and spend most of their time messing up the city in tavern brawls with each other.
I feel guilty for having to mention this because as an adult male who has watched violent films for nearly 20 years I barely even notice it anymore. However as comics are viewed as ‘childrens’ entertainment (even if it is no longer the case) I feel it would be remiss of me not to mention that this book has violence, gore and swearing on a level that makes Marvel Max titles look like books for toddlers. In accordance with the usual norms, there is however no nudity and only the faintest of hints of sexuality, beyond the usual low cut dresses.
This book hits on the level of humour which is so perfectly placed you would think it had been written with me in mind. It is not laugh out loud funny, very few comics manage that, but it is non stop, constantly poking fun at the subject material which makes it an utter pleasure to read. The adventuring parties are making such a mess of the town that they get an ultimatum of ‘undertake a task, or get out of town.’ The tasks are the usual heroic ones such as ‘clean out the goblins caves’ or ‘take care of these bandits’ but thrown in as well are the ‘cleaning of the privies at the barracks’ which got a chuckle out of me. It all goes wrong when black clad assassins turn up and start decimating the parties.
The rest of the book is a tongue in cheek ‘whodunit’ but it is more window dressing for the group to beat up monsters, drop rocks on people and generally get cut to within an inch of their lives. There is a wonderful feeling of ‘history’ in the book as everyone seems to have lives that have gone on in the background which bring a sense of character and realism to an otherwise completely unreal story.
The art in this book is a pleasure to behold. All the lead characters are immediately identifiable, both from a distance and to their roles within the ‘game.’ We have a dwarven fighter who has apparently shaved her beard to look like a normal woman, but squashed and stretched; a pixie like diminutive thief; a dark skinned priestess who does not believe in gods; and the prerequisite tall slim magic using elf. Putting aside the swords and sorcery they act like a bunch of 20-something girls on a night out, racing to get drunk and throwing themselves at attractive men (or women).
If you like swords and sorcery with a sense of humour, especially if you have done any role playing before, then this is definitely a book you will want to read. If not, I wonder if it will have quite the same effect, if the jokes will simply fly over peoples heads. Then again, I expect that pretty women beating the living crap out of monsters and then getting roaring drunk probably plays to a much wider audience than I give it credit for.