Friday, August 26, 2016

Rat Queens: Sass and Sorcery by Kurtis Wiebe and Roc Upchurch

Reviewed by Ambrea

 In The Rat Queens:  Sass and Sorcery, readers have the opportunity to meet a most unusual group of battle maidens-for-hire:  Hannah the rockabilly Elven mage, Violet the hipster Dwarven fighter, Dee the atheist Human cleric and Betty the happy, hippy Smidgen thief.  After a most ignominious encounter with the city guards, the Rat Queens are forced to complete a series of tasks to prevent their imprisonment—or, worse, banishment from the kingdom.  But when their quest to slay the cave creatures on the outskirts of town goes horribly, horribly awry, the Rat Queens must fight their toughest battle if the hope to protect their city from the dark magic slowly seeping into their lives.

On the back of the first volume, a quick synopsis reads:  “This modern spin on an old school genre is a violent, monster killing epic that is like Buffy meets Tank Girl in a Lord of the Rings world on crack!”  It’s a description that begs the question, “Is that really a thing?”

Yes.  Yes, it is.

Rat Queens is a genre bending epic that hearkens to its roots in traditional fantasy, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously.  It pokes fun at the Lord of the Rings, Dungeons & Dragons, World of Warcraft, and the fantasy genre as a whole.  Rat Queens:  Sass and Sorcery combines fantastic characters, humor, and irreverent, bloody adventures, creating a strange but oddly fascinating story.

Oh, it’s possibly one of the weirdest graphic novels I’ve read, but it’s also one of the more interesting volumes I’ve had the chance to pick up.  An amalgamation of traditional fantasy epics, role-playing games and quest-based video games, it’s possibly one of the quirkiest, oddball adventure stories I’ve had the pleasure to read.  Throw in a few modern amenities, like enchanted stones that serve as cell phones and designer cocktails courtesy of Betty (who is very liberal when it comes to her vices), it’s sometimes just plain weird.

And, oddly enough, I really liked the characters.  Betty is strange and flighty, but she’s a mighty fun character who simply goes with the flow; whereas Dee is quieter, more introspective, more prone to common sense and good decisions among her friends.  Hannah is the wild child, a bawdy battle-maiden with a sharp wit and a foul mouth and a wicked grasp of magic.  And then there’s Violet.

I’ll be honest, I thought Hannah and Betty were great fun, and Dee is the best friend I’d love to have in my life, but, for some reason, I just adored Violet.  All these ladies are setting off on their own, trying to forge their own paths and defy the expectations set out for them; however, Violet struck a chord with me that instantly made her my favorite character. 

She’s tough, she’s strong, she’s battle savvy, and she’s desperate to prove a point to her parents.  Like Hannah, Betty, and Dee who are set on starting new lives, she wants to separate herself from her parents’ world, differentiate herself from the dwarven culture she feels has consumed her.  She doesn’t want to model armor, she wants to wear it and use it—and she wants to fight.  She wants to be a warrior, regardless of the expectations of her family and culture.

And that’s what I like about her:  she’s true to herself.  She wants what she wants, and she won’t apologize for going out to seize her own life.

Overall, I enjoyed Rat Queens.  It’s fun, it’s weird, it’s a raucous delight, but it has charming characters and an interesting plot—and I loved the art.   Roc Upchurch does an excellent job of bringing Kurtis Wiebe’s characters and story to life.  He gives it a gritty, edgy vibe that meshes well with the attitudes of the Rat Queens, and I liked it.

I liked it a lot.

But, fair warning to other readers, Rat Queens is not a tame series.  Violent, crude, graphic, and rather explicit, it’s not for younger readers.  I wouldn’t recommend it to readers offended by or vehemently against discussion of drugs, crude language, explicit content, general misconduct, or graphic depiction of violence or murder.  Seriously, the Rat Queens hold nothing back and they’re not afraid to cause a little (read:  a lot) of mischief.

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