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. Here is a story that lives in the skies. A sweeping, intricate, transcontinental epic, told at the intersection of a dozen or so human lives. Seven worlds, connected across space by ancient technology. Well, six worlds really, since the pit portal to the demon dimension has since been cut off from the rest of the ring. But the circle cannot be broken. The Ring of the Seven Worlds begins with invasion.
Then it grows, stepping from one world to the next, passing the story from character to character as their paths cross. A spider’s measured weaving, spiraling outwards, tied together. Airships, docks, and anchors against beautiful clouds. Forbidden temples in the desert. Forgotten grottoes, canyons of tan and green. Floating cities. Aristocrats and acrobats and girl gang thugs. Intellectual resistance fighters and small tyrants. Espionage. Magic. The story sprawls, and yet the whole thing is really a single path. From start to finish, The Ring of the Seven Worlds is a love story. A dreamy, bookish son of a trade empire and a driven, acrobatic circus rapscallion. Their path is a straight line that goes from cover to cover. Two mismatched civilians tossed into adventure by the winds of war.
The humans of this story occupy a fantastic pocket of space where technology is both advanced and something that never really got past WWI. So when the demon armies roll out with WWII industry, they do the damage against pirates in zeppelins that you’d expect. The resistance means to stay unique, each ship has its captain. The invaders are a swarm of efficiency, large numbers cast from a single die. The Ring of the Seven Worlds lets you know what’s at stake by putting next-level attention to detail into building a culturally robust world. And then it pushes that world to the brink of destruction.
Each different loop in the ring is distinct. Developed. The costume design is particularly on point. Don’t let the country of origin fool you, this book plays at a pan-Asian aesthetic, from Japan to so far East (relatively) it touches on the Balkans. It’s reminiscent of Masamune Shirow’s casual fashion robot special ops. Everyone is immaculately dressed in bold, captivating costumes and colors.
Speaking of, the colors throughout the book are top notch, bringing life and clarity to the densely packed storytelling, but the variety and effort put into the character design just slays me. Plenty of great chases (people and planes), exotic locales, maps, art to edify and art to scare you. There’s even effort put in to employ empty space, as telling a visual story about the sky demands. The art is fun, totally solid and utterly effortless through and through. Reverent to its influences. Full of its own good ideas. With some seriously. Dashing. Costumes.
In my eyes, the strongest influence on the look of The Ring of the Seven Worlds is the work of Studio Ghibli. The art is distinctly European, but at the same time you don’t have to fly to cover the distance from the ships of the Seven Worlds to the gliders of the Valley of the Wind (or the Air-Pirate Union of Porco Rosso’s age of romance). Maybe it’s that calligraphic, fine art grip on the pen that European and Japanese artists seem to share that makes the two styles employed to create this book seem indistinguishable.
It’s the perfect book for readers who crave gravitas in their stories but don’t want the adventure to lose any momentum over it. The Ring of the Seven Worlds is tightly wound and firmly bound. Damn fine speculative fiction. Not a carefree read, but worthwhile, one of a kind, definitely required.
Written by Giovanni Gualdoni and Gabriele Clima.
Artwork by Matteo Piana.
Colors by Davide Turotti.
Translated by Anna Provitola.
US Edition edited by Alex Donoghue and Tim Pilcher.