Mark Smylie, Artesia (1999-?)

Epic story clearly belonging to the grimdark subgenre. Also, military, medieval fantasy. With strong elements of erotica.
Great story, impressive world-building, conservative, but excellent art. Shakespearean language and intrigue.
Still, I have to admit – the first time I got it into my hands, I couldn’t get past a few first pages. Why? Well, chain-mail bikini syndrome. My firm belief is that a woman on a quasi-medieval fantasy battlefield needs her armour to cover as much of her body as possible. Even the visually attractive parts. Sigh 😉 So, say, if a stunning female was to don a Gothic style plate armour, she’d take care to cover all the important parts of her anatomy. Artesia didn’t and I was sure that it was not the kind of serious fantasy comic I was looking for. But since that time I’ve read some very positive reviews and went back. And wow. It was definitely worth my time.
Still – not safe for work, or a room under age relative might wander into. Or your mother. Or anyone who wouldn’t understand that you only read it for the art, storytelling and maybe appreciation of women empowerment. I’m not sure this much group sex had to be involved in said empowerment, though.
Heh, so not a five star thing. Why four stars and all the enthusiasm?

Because all the rest is great. It’s a dark, sophisticated story set in a rich, diverse world. Medieval in its technology and culture, with strong elements of fantasy. It takes longer to read than your average graphic novel – with653648-artesia2out reading all the appendices that explain history, geography and religion of the world you can’t understand the story.
Story that is heavily based on European history. We have two main conflicts, feudal monarchies vs a sorcerous empire and “paganism” (strongly but not exclusively Celtic in character) vs “Christianity”. It sounds stereotypical, but the execution is very original, especially for a graphic novel. The author put enormous effort into research and it pays off.
Artesia is a warrior queen, a priestess and a whore. Betrayed, she fights back to unite her people and then march to war against the mightiest empire of the world, in alliance with people whose hatred of a pagan warrior queen only temporarily gave way to dread of their imperial invaders.
And so we witness epic battles and sieges, brotherhood of soldiers, virtues of knighthood, realistic medieval tactics, vile rituals, powerful spells, court politics. And group sex, more group sex than necessary. I think that it’s author’s way not only to attract adolescent readers, but also contrast fun-loving pagan protagonists with their grim, puritanical enemies. I believe it was overdone.
But if you’re an adult looking for a visually stunning fantasy epic – read “Artesia”, you won’t be disappointed.

Score: 7/10

[Review also published on Goodreads]

5 thoughts on “Mark Smylie, Artesia (1999-?)

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    1. piotrek

      Ola couldn’t see past this very real problem, for me – it was a fascinating story with great battle scenes and some great worldbuilding, a culture heavily inspired by late Middle Ages/Renaissance and some interesting characters. Orgies were… not necessary, but probably increased sales 😉

      Liked by 1 person

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