Review: Curia Regis … just your everyday story of 18th Century noblefolk…
Oh dear, another one of those picked up at Thought Bubble 2013 and criminally forsaken until now. Bad me. Apologies to all involved, especially you dear reader, as you really should have been told about this before now.
Hoelzemann describes Curia Regis as an 18th Century adventure drama, Curia Regis meaning ‘King’s Court’ and that’s just where we are, an unspecified location, but it certainly feels somewhere European, somewhere old history. It’s a thoroughly entertaining piece of historical fiction, a very slow build certainly, but one that does, eventually, reward your perseverance with the very beginnings of what feels like it has potential to be a cracking piece. And it looks simply gorgeous whether in the crisp b&w of issue 1 or the lush colours of issues 2 & 3…
Kicking off with a 10-page prologue that sets the style and tone so well; a brilliantly tense bit of mood building as Duke Julien II watches his city burn before turning his gun on himself, revolution in the air. His suicide sets in place 30 years of turbulent rule, leading to the current cruel and tyrannical King Regent, ruling in place of the rightful child King he’s charged with protecting, a child King of whom there has been no word for far too long.
The art is full of expressive characters, lush backgrounds, fabulous architectural detailing and colour or not there’s a sense of dark foreboding building, dark plots befitting a dark, menacing regime, the King Regent’s tyrannical reign colouring all.
We don’t meet the King Regent until Chapter 3, in the webcomics not yet collected to print, but when we do, Hoelzemann doesn’t disappoint, the body language simply excellent, dressed all in black, imposing, threatening….
Again, gorgeous artwork.
However, I’m getting ahead of myself. Back to chapter 1, 30 years post Duke Julien’s suicide with the court transformed into a virtual prison for the assembled noblemen and women living in fear of the Regent, any minor transgression or dissenting word resulting in a sudden disappearance from court.
Chapter 1 opens with a duel, something to set the plot in motion, the King Regent’s nephew and his spymaster both dying, the Regent determined to find the person responsible for this double loss to his regime. He doesn’t know it yet, but the responsible party is very close to the throne, the child King’s cousin; Moren, Madame La Marquise. The duel was a careful manipulation designed to aid her friends and fellow members of an underground rebellion. In the weeks to come Moren will find her manipulations have serious repercussions, this King Regent unafraid to lay blame where it suits him, and falling out of favour has dire consequences.
Chapter 2 switches everything around, something Hoelzemann employs for every chapter, more on that in a moment. I have to praise Hoelzemann on her thoughtful and realistic portrayal of Moren’s father in this chapter. He’s in the later stages of dementia, and speaking as someone with a mother in exactly the same position, it’s a really honest and painful read, but that’s very much meant to be taken as a compliment. In terms of the storyline, it also serves to really transform Moren from the one-dimensional manipulative femme fatale villain of the first issue into a rounded, realistic character of warmth and vulnerability.
The portion of Chapter 2 contained in issue 3 switches character and scene again, to another of the noble Royal family, one overlooked by Regent and country, the child King ahead of him in succession. Jacques is hardly dealing with the new situation well…
Everything is gathering well, Hoelzemann skillfully assembling her pieces on this chess board of a storyline, each piece slowly coming into play. It’s a clever way to do it, slowly building up a view of the world we’re reading, gaining an appreciation for the characters, multi-layered and interesting, but very difficult to pull off effectively. Hoelzemann nearly makes it work, but there’s a big flaw running all the way through these first three issues of Curia Regis, not one that scuppers the read thankfully, nor one that should prevent you from reading either.
The problem with Curia Regis is Hoelzemann’s decision to reveal too little of the plot basics within the comic pages. I’m all for mystery, all for a slowly unfolding plot, but it’s basic facts that are missing here. A telling illustration of what I mean comes from reading Curia Regis in print, where there’s more to be gleaned from the back cover blurb or the inside front cover summary than anything you read inside. Mystery is all well and good, but there’s no harm in giving the reader just enough to get a handle on the characters and their relationships. As it is, I felt I was struggling too often with these issues when I should have been free to settle back and really enjoy everything that’s truly good about Curia Regis.
BUT, having said that, lets focus on just how good it is once you get past that small problem. Firstly, it passes the print to online test for me – always a sure sign I’m interested – as I was straight online after finishing these three issues to see how much more of the story was there (answer; a little of chapter 3 – these 3 issues contain chapters 1 and 2 plus the prologue and interlude). It’s a really beautifully crafted and drawn series, the frustrations of the lack of plot/character detail and the slow pace overcome by the strength of idea and execution.
Storytelling is excellent throughout, the art detailed, refined, cultured, body language and expression great as well. There’s something of the Terry Moore about it at times, especially once we get to the colour chapters, there’s even something almost Diney-esque about it as well.
Curia Regis is a good series, quietly building into something with potential to be excellent. You can get hold of the print issues from the website, and read the digital version online, starting here.