Those words should be on the frontispiece for each installment in the Guin Saga. Every page sports a striking image, every chapter break spawns a plot twist, and the end of every book is a cliffhanger. And really, would you have it any other way? After the delirious, face-tearing speed of The Guin Saga, most everything else that calls itself “fantasy” or “adventure” feels like it’s wading through the banks of the Nile with its ankles chained together.The story, as set up in the first two volumes, overlays the two-fisted pulp adventure of Edgar Rice Burroughs with the color and immediacy of a seinen action manga. At front and center is our hero, Guin, sporting the body of an Adonis and the head of a leopard, unable to remember his past before being discovered face-down in a no-man’s-land swamp. Flanking him, the Royal Twins of Parros, Rinda and Remus, the ones who stumble across a half-dead Guin, revive him, and earn him as their protector and companion. Alongside them is the mercenary Istavan, as quick with his snide tongue as he is with his sword, although he tries to get far more mileage out of the former than the latter. And finally, behind them and gaining fast in hot pursuit, the female general Lady Amnelis, commanding the armies of the Mongaul nation.
And when we last left our heroes — where were they? Oh, yeah…trapped in a valley in the middle of the Nospherus wastelands, with the entire floor of the valley carpeted wall-to-wall with gelatinous, flesh-melting monsters. These yidoh, as they’re called, are only one of the many horrors that lurk in the desert — but as Guin demonstrates, they can not only be avoided or overcome, but mastered and made into an ally rather than an obstacle. This he does with the aid of the Sem, the monkey-like barbarian tribes who inhabit the Nospherus and are also targeted for extermination by Amnelis’s armies.
There’s more going on than a search-and-destroy operation, though. Amnelis has her sights set on the Twins (for the mystical secrets they may possess), on Guin (for being, well, Guin), and on one more thing: a mystical artifact somewhere in the middle of the Nospherus wastes that brings death to all who come into contact with it. Small wonder Amnelis wants it for herself as a weapon of conquest, although Guin and his cohorts know nothing of it — they have their hands full trying to bring together the variegated tribes of the Sem to beat back the Mongaul army. Once they do, though, Guin and his gang unleash a battle scene worthy of anything we’ve seen in your favorite Hollywood epic of choice, one where tactics and clever use of the terrain (in wholly unexpected ways) count as much as sheer brawn or the size of an army…or the force of destiny itself.
As you can probably guess, Guin isn’t about subtle gestures, but that’s no deficit: the world and its people in here are painted in big, bold strokes that pay off. When Guin leaps up and takes charge of leading the Sem tribes into battle, we buy it. When Istavan’s bragging mouth gets him noshing (to his abject distaste) on a plateful of baked sand leech, we laugh. When the Sem armies go up against the Mongaul in the desert, we grit our teeth and narrow our eyes. And there’s a cliffhanger of an ending that is guaranteed to draw everyone reading it back into the bookstore once Volume 4drops in May.
The best thing about Guin is that it’s played totally straight, with the complete courage of its convictions. There’s no winking at the audience, no in-jokes, no double-takes — in other words, nothing that would spoil the fun for an audience that takes their escapism neat. Like me.
Note: The first three Guin books were originally published in hardcover by Vertical some time back, but met resistance due to the high cover price and (I suspect) a general lack of awareness. This time around, they’ve put them in budget-price trade paperback editions and included both the striking black-and-white illustrations and movie-poster-like cover art by Naoyuki Katoh that graced the original Japanese printings. I hope they get far enough into the series to also give us the volumes that sported none other than Yoshitaka (Vampire Hunter D) Amano’s cover art, too.
Translation: Video-game fans might recognize the name of the translator: Alexander O. Smith, best known to video game fans as the head localizer for everything fromPhoenix Wright to Final Fantasy X. The best thing I can say about his work is that there was never a moment when I felt like I was reading a translation, just a crackling good yarn. That was precisely the idea — the localization for the story never calls attention to itself and never gets in the way.
The Bottom Line: Existing Guin fans don’t need to be told to pick this up; you’ve probably already got it pre-ordered. My job, however, is to make as many new Guin fans as I can. This book and its two predecessors are some of the rip-roaringest thirty bucks you’ll spend all year.