Simoun Dja set quite the bubbling plot regarding a twelfth century crusade. Under the leadership of the dubious Duke of Taranto, Christian forces in the Middle East have suffered a heavy defeat at the hands of Sultan Abdul Razim while attempting to enter the city of Hierus Halem. It houses the impenetrable tomb of the Christian God, a still beating heart still believed to be housed within. Branded a coward for refusing to ally himself with what he considered an ill-advised attack, Gauthier, Earl of Flanders has left to search for new allies, while his sister in law Syria has acquired a mirror able to reveal the true soul of anyone reflected within. Complicating matters even further are a man who cannot die, an enigmatic woman, and mention of a mystical abomination that crawled at the feet of the crucified Christ.

Qa’dj opens with Gauthier and his companion crossing the unforgiving desert desperate for water. In a nicely conceived scene he’s initially cautious, noting “everything has a price in the desert”, able to trade water for a promise he considers trivial, yet which readers of Simoun Dja know could be beyond price. It coalesces with the mood of deceit Jean Dufaux is providing, with very few characters whether pure or evil not being manipulated in some way, and the mirror is an item desired by all. Because so few characters have redeeming features, Gaulthier stands out as honourable, if sometimes a little drippy, but others surprise a little, Abdul Razim being an interesting and conflicted personality.

As before, Phillipe Xavier’s art is astonishing. He combines clarity with ornate detail, and superlative action with subtle emotional responses. As we learn that the desert hides many secrets, Xavier proves master of drawing them all. Two powerful new characters are introduced in Qa’dj, one the Master of Machines after whom the next episode is titled, and the other an ancient malevolent presence. Both are imposingly designed by Xavier as threats we can believe in.

With his cast separated and some now occupied with tasks other than those they originally committed to, there’s the thought that Dufaux could be diluting his plot away from its strengths, but much will depend on how The Master of Machines plays out.