Review by Frank Plowright
This welcome translation combines all three French albums of Sylvain Runberg’s well thought out generational fantasy series. It’s set in a Viking world where the Gods and creatures of myth exist, and the Norse capital of Alstavik is built around the world tree Yggdrasil, with a single branch supporting the magnificent construction of the Norse King’s palace. The concept absolutely requires an illustrator with a sense of the epic, and Chinese artist Juzhen supplies page after page bringing fantasy to convincing life.
Konungar opens with the long dormant threat of centaurs again attacking the foothills around Alstavik, which unleashes both imminent danger and unwelcome memories of family strife. Two brothers fought, and Rildrig, the inferior of them, became King due to trickery. Sigvald was freed by allies and has since maintained an independent kingdom, but neither can withstand the centaurs alone. Runberg switches between past and present, showing how an alliance was once reached with the centaurs, how the schism between brothers originated, and how family concerns continue to affect the present. Hanging over everything are the actions of another ambitious man, and their horrifying means of achieving their ends. Juzhen’s depiction of the terror and his lush painted presentation of the world occupied by the Vikings is a visual treat, and utterly believable, using a mood generating colour scheme. He immerses readers so thoroughly in illusion that it’s only when the book is closed that the spell is broken.
Runberg’s plot is allegorical, eventually becoming about the terrible costs of protection in a society that’s constantly stoking up fear of enemies, and of the costs of victory against a demonised enemy. The weapons of mass destruction unleashed in the name of security are terrifying, and the moral to the story is that once something no-one can really control is unleashed, hell rapidly follows. The issue of refugees is also addressed, and that of building a protective wall, although Konungar was originally published between 2011 and 2013, before the issue of a wall became such a divisive topic in the USA. However, while parallels are there to be drawn, Runberg’s priority is a cracking action thriller, a desperate battle against impossible odds, the allegiances and sympathies shifting and plenty of surprises. It’s great. Now if only there was an explanation for the title.