The storyline in Crusade is a long, convoluted one, stretching (as far as I’m aware) 4 volumes, and in some ways the thing just doesn’t suit the slim 54-page volumes it’s presented in.
Each volume runs multiple storylines, with characters pursuing their separate agendas and various quests, and I’m convinced it’s something that will read far, far better as one continuous story where the complex and intriguing story of “a forgotten crusade, erased from history because it fell into the shadow of the devil” can be fully appreciated without having to break off at an essential moment.
Here’s some of what I’ve said already about Volume 1:
“Crusade is attempting to tell a really interesting quasi-historical tale mixing the dubious morality of the Crusades with a healthy dose of mysticism and fantasy. It’s well done, with plenty of action and intrigue and overall, it’s a damn fine introduction to the series.”
And on Volume 2:
“Such is the nature of Crusade – it’s absolutely full of deceit, plotting and shifting allegiences, our cast of characters continually plot and maneuver themselves, and there’s just so much going on through the slim 54 page volume that Dufaux’s attempt to advance his story on three main fronts, with minor plot points firing off all over the place, doesn’t quite work. Everything just flies past a tad too quickly, the characters are thrown at us and it all moves just a little too fast, with not enough time to establish characterisation beyond the broadest of strokes.”
But this third volume really works so much better than the previous two, as it seems to begin drawing everything back together, reconnecting the disparate plots – although there’s still time to introduce yet another mystery right at the end to further muddy the already dirty waters of treachery, deceit, greed, and all too human frailty in supposed service to a higher cause.
Three-quarters of the way through a series is no time to start either recapping or detailing the plot, so I’ll merely summarise to hopefully give you an impression….
Gauthier of Flanders is still hunting down the Aa, essential to his goal of forming an alliance with the Jews Of Samaria to retake Jerusalem. But his task is no easy one, and the Aa has had many years to build a corrupted, undead army, as Gauthier discovers deep underground at the opening of this volume.
The mysterious Sar Mitra returns, hunting the mirror that contains a trapped aspect of his master, whose true nature we finally see in a series of beautifully drawn battlefield scenes from Xavier, where he (it) meets the equally mysterious Light Of The Martyrs:
Meanwhile, Lady Syria, Gauthier’s only real ally in the first volume, is the guest/prisoner of noble Sultan Abdul Razim. She had, but then lost the mirror that Sar Mitra is pursuing, and it fell into the hands of the Duke Of Taranto, leader of the Crusading Christian forces. But the Duke’s power is waning, possessed by the Qa’dj, the demon that crawled at the foot of the cross, the Duke is changing, and a man who was never that noble is becoming something much worse.
But the main player this time round is the mysterious and monstrous Master Of Machines, who seeks to wrest control of the Christian army – and challenges the Duke in single combat to do so. Why he truly desires the Christian forces is unknown and thrown into further doubt at the volume’s end.
But for now, we have a memorable battle between the two men, but it’s not a battle the Duke can win. His fate is sealed, and his end is brutal and horrific – and perfectly drawn by Xavier.
Like I said, it all begins to be pulled together, as all the protagonists are drawn back together, but there’s a long way to go yet to really define this as the epic tale it really wants to be. I’m hopeful that volume 4 will prove a fitting finale to the series, but I still have doubts. Doubts that are considerably smaller after this volume, but doubts nonetheless.
As I’ve said before, Xavier’s artwork is growing on me, and in this volume I think I’m finally there, just about – possibly because the extra action going on throughout allows him to play to his strengths – and you can see those in just the few pages I’ve included here – he does do a good battle doesn’t he?
The fourth volume in Crusade is due in February 2012. It’s really too far away. And that, possibly, is far greater indication of my enjoyment of Crusade than anything I could have told you here. I’m looking forward to sitting down with all four volumes of the story and seeing if, as I suspect, there’s a rather magnificent story in here, that’s been somewhat hindered by serialisation. It’s complicated plots, well observed characters and truly epic feel deserve your attention, and it has mine until the very end.