There’s not much in the way of information for anyone who’s not already feasted on Volume I, which is a shame as there are complexities to Curse of the Chosen, and some readers won’t pick up on them. The short synopsis is that a few of those competing in a contest to determine a new ruler have realised the contest is being rigged by the sorceress Niope, and the more contestants fail, the stronger she becomes. She’s seen over the opening pages gloating about her imminent triumph, but with Io able to break her spell perhaps all is not lost.

Alexis Deacon stumbled a little with the writing over the first half of Volume I, but understood the importance of pace and tension from the start, which ensured Curse of the Chosen thrilled enough until the plotting became more surprising. From early on here everything is out in the open, and Deacon concentrates on what the greedy are prepared to do to acquire power, and what it takes to stop them. The contestants remaining alive from previous rounds are told only one of them will survive, yet that person will take the crown. The plotting continues to be clever in that those who are more inclined to take a stand are separated from each other, not all aware they play a part in a bigger picture.

A lot of effort is taken with the art, and there’s an admirable work rate on show. Deacon’s style is loose, but the panels are densely packed with people almost always seen as full figures with surroundings and from distance, and he features plenty of panels on every page.

While ostensibly a fantasy for young adults, Deacon doesn’t spare the life lessons. Not everything is easily achieved, sometimes achievement comes at considerable cost, and sacrifice may be required for the greater good. Not everyone can be trusted, but persistence should pay off in the end and being small isn’t the same as being powerless. It’s not a simple path for any of the leading characters, and because this is fantasy with horror undertones some have some horrific experiences. We learn, for instance, what’s made Io such a resilient person, although it’s not always quite clear what happened in the past and what’s occurring in Io’s unconscious mind. It should also be noted that the entire story relies on an agreement with some very tricky conditions, and following the twists and turns of those requires concentration.

The ending is also strange, the final pages lacking colour and returning the city’s population to hear a chilling pronouncement. When so much has been so enthralling, this is a mis-step, a whimper of an ending following a bang. Curse of the Chosen lives up to its title, but while it’s nowhere near enough to negate the suspense and thrills of the previous 183 pages, the ending needed a little more thought.