Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, where each week one of our contributors goes crazy over a book they just can’t seem to get enough of. Intrigued to find something new? Seeking validation for your secret passions? Required Reading gets you.
By Arpad Okay. Elias’ tale is of persona lost. The greatest despot in history finds himself trapped in the body of the only man he could not defeat. His quest to regain his identity is born from the same selfishness that made him a conqueror, but it would seem that his fate is to be a hero instead. Despite being steeped in the look of Vancian high fantasy and the pulpy world of Two Gun Bob, the story of Elias the Cursed runs deep, far beyond the boundaries of the dying earth previously established by Cugel the Clever or Conan the Barbarian.
That said, the fantasy story may defy what has come before, but aesthetic is familiar, iconic. This book is an instant classic with a capital C. Romantic and pulpy, it looks like Krull or Orlando Furioso or Expedition to the Barrier Peaks; it reads like Edgar Rice Burroughs on Mars — similar but not a re-hash, something fresh. Sylviane Corgiat has given us a wholly new story told flawlessly in the style we love. What seem like tropes when summarized (the halfling thief, the devout doctor, the gentle giant, the wandering knight), everything within is realized as unique and compelling on the page. The genre conventions aren’t goals for the story to achieve. They are starting points, a foothold from which expectations can be defied. You can sense that Corgiat knows and loves the history of fantastic literature, but her ideas are inarguably inspired, wholly hers. She is great at flipping the script. The nurse is freaky and the bandit-king is a prude instead of vice versa. The innocents accused of hiding secrets are actually all the bad things they are accused of being. No character is simple enough to be defined by a single role. How can Elias succeed at becoming what he once was when everyone, everywhere is constantly changing?
Elias the Cursed has a serious Wild Bunch vibe. Not just because of the crew (an adventuring party comprised completely of outsiders), who run hard and feel real like Pike’s gang in Peckinpah’s classic. Elias feels this way because the Cursed world is also set at the end of its era. Elias and magic and wonder are a part of the past. Our Freebooters follow a hero’s quest in a land where that sort of thing just isn’t done any more. It’s sword and sorcery in a world that replaces magic with science and royalty with bureaucracy. Like ours. But so much not like our world at all.
That’s what makes fantasy great. An author with a vision that nothing can stop. The limits of conventional reality are restraints shed to tell a story greater than our world allows to come to pass. Corgiat delivers this and more. Wonder (again capitalized) in many forms: magic, monsters, natural spectacle, empathy and passion and sex. And, more than anything else, the unexpected. Elias and his unquenchable thirst for vengeance leads to a path, and that path leads him to do good instead of evil. His story: one door closes, another opens.
It’s racier than Gygax. It’s more developed than Métal Hurlant and funnier than SnarfQuest. A fair comparison would be to Barry Windsor Smith. But Sylviane Corgiat is a storyteller who stands on her own, and we are lucky for it. She and Corrado Mastantuono can titillate the imagination just as well as any of the masters, but with something you’ve never seen before. That Wonder. Elias the Cursed gives you the goosebumps that come with discovering your new favorite thing.
Written by Sylviane Corgiat.
Illustrated by Corrado Mastantuono.
Colored by Corrado Mastantuono, Jean-Jaques Rouger, and Pierre Matterne.
Translated by Samantha Demers.
US Edition edited by Alex Donoghue and Tim Pilcher.