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.

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By Courtney Ryan. A story set in a world so desolate and violent that all hope has been drained from its characters’ faces — that shouldn’t be as seductive as Legend of the Scarlet Blades is from the first page. Part fable, part fantasy, part historical fiction, part horror, part sword and sorcery adventure, part love story. Though it defies classification, this tale is remarkably simple.

The plot is thick from the start. A masterless samurai tortured with amnesia and haunted by voices wanders the icy slopes of feudal Japan in search of his memories. Large, mythical wolves guard the ice forest, shredding apart the bodies of all humans who dare to cross their path. The Shogun is dead and his deformed daughter now rules, commanding her guards to violently rip all women and girls of the village from their families and homes for mysterious reasons. A young Bunraku puppeteer has escaped from the castle’s dungeon and hides among a rebel alliance that practices esoteric magic. And now the story begins.

Our ronin, Rydo Caim, is hideous. A mangled stump of a missing arm hangs at his side while his other arm clutches a basket dripping with blood. One of his eyes has been gouged out and blood stains his clothing and skin. And yet he has fared better than many other characters, especially those whose bodies have been chopped and piled onto other mangled corpses, or those whose faces have been stretched out and mounted to wooden blocks.

What should be hideous is beautiful in Legend of the Scarlet Blades, thanks to writer and artist Saverio Tenuta, who delicately weaves a textured story of desire, loss, vengeance, and heartache. Though there is more gore here than in a Hostel film, every page is absolutely stunning. His atmospheric style creates a majestic landscape graced with mythical beings and ethereal yet traditional Japanese structures. Tenuta doesn’t merely take us to feudal Japan, he enables us to explore the fantastical worlds a person living in feudal Japan might dream up.

Courtesy of Humanoids Publishing.

Courtesy of Humanoids Publishing.

Tenuta, an Italian who has spent time in both Kyoto and Tokyo, roots his tale in recognizable lore. We’re already familiar with samurai fables, evil Shoguns, and ancient magic. Instead of building something completely new, he uses this framework to present conflicted characters confronting the circuitous nature of actions and consequences. No one can escape the tragic fate their cruel world has determined, but no one has to rise to its cruelty either.    

My only complaint is the awkward and decidedly creepy romance between Raido and Meiki, the young puppeteer. When Meiki is first introduced she is referred to as  a child and it’s clear from the start that Raido hasn’t been a child in a very long time. I first read their intimacy as a father-daughter bond… until they started making out. I know it’s probably realistic for the era (though this is a fantasy so we don’t have to play by the rules of feudal courtship to a T) and their romance is honestly the least deranged in the whole story, but it still stands as my one complaint.

Despite any imperfections, Legend of the Scarlet Blades is why we buy comic books. Of course a beautiful book still fails if the characters don’t connect and Tenuta’s characters more than oblige. It’s their sorrows and desires that keep us turning from one breathtaking page to the next.        

Humanoids/$29.95

Written by Saverio Tenuta.

Artwork by Saverio Tenuta.

Translated by Samantha Demers.

US edition edited by Alex Donoghue.

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