King Alvar is a noble Christian knight and an able ruler and leader of his soldiers. Alvar is also so fair of face and proud of his noble visage that he has forbidden all his subjects from seeing it, wearing a great helm whenever he is out in public. But when an arrow mortally wounds King Alvar on the field of battle, he asks his cousin Alfred, who is his virtual twin, to don his helmet and finish the battle so his men will not know how close their invincible king has come to death.
But Alfred has designs on playing the king for longer than a single battle, leaving his cousin for dead after fouling his wounds. Alvar’s life is saved when he is discovered by a hunchbacked healer woman. She tends to his wounds and lays with Alvar, as his fever deludes him into thinking the healer is his fair queen, Violena.
For ten years Alvar is given to madness, until a chance encounter jogs his memory. He abandons the healer and the daughter he sired by her, leaving only his signet ring behind as payment for her services. After all, he has a kingdom to reclaim and a beautiful queen to return to!
Alas, Queen Violena is not so loyal as she is fair. And taking the throne back will prove far less simple a task than merely slaying the usurper Alfred. For Violena is more loyal to her brattish son Rador than to any husband. And the broken-hearted healer woman’s dying curse will see Alvar undone by his own appetites and the daughter he forsook!
Royal Blood is a tragic story, if not technically a tragedy by the classical definition. Certainly one can draw parallels between numerous plot points in this comic and various plays and novels, with Oedipus Rex, The Counte Of Monte Cristo and Titus Andronicus being the most obvious influences. Modern audiences might also compare it to George R. R. Martin’s A Game Of Thrones, given that this comic features multiple instances of rape, incest and enough horrific violence to make even Quentin Tarantino say, “This is a little over the top.”
Indeed, that is one of the three fatal flaws with the story of Royal Blood. As far as it is willing to go in shocking its audience, it fails to have any point beyond provoking the reader. There is no grand design or goal in Alvar’s actions beyond his doing whatever he wants to at any given moment. Were this capriciousness held up as his tragic flaw, this might be forgivable. But it is not and thus it is not.
The second great flaw of this book is that there is not a single sympathetic character for whom the reader can root for. Alvar starts off as a heroic figure, at least in so far as he is as concerned about the welfare of his people as he is about getting back to his beautiful queen when he abandons the woman who saved his life and their daughter. Once he returns home, however, he begins to slide further and further into depravity, eventually reaching a point where we cannot consider him a protagonist save that he is only slightly less reprehensible than the other characters and even then that is dependent on your point of view. Shakespeare had the sense to make Richard the Third charming for all of his wickedness and Alvar lacks such charm or wit.
The final great flaw of Royal Blood is its ultimately unoriginal nature. It is a competent mash-up of several great ideas but the sad truth is that all of the elements of the story have been utilized before and utilized far better than they are here. The whole is less than the sum of its parts.
This is a shame because the artwork by Dongzi Lui is quite good. Lui’s style is reminiscent of Cary Nord and Timothy Truman’s work with Conan while having its own unique, visceral element. The action is well depicted and the artwork is vividly detailed throughout and beautifully colored. While the story may be cobbled together from various classic tragedies, the artwork is unique and memorable.
Sadly, that is not enough to make Royal Blood worth reading. The story isn’t bad but ultimately has very little plot or point. Still, the great artwork is worth looking at and the most enthusiastic of fantasy fans and history buffs may enjoy this book despite its standard story.