Rex Mundi is a fascinating book. The setting is nearly as interesting as the plot, which is shocking in a conspiracy story. Set in 1930s Paris, this comic slowly peels back layers of a vast and unusual mystery. The story follows the dark alleys of heresy in the Catholic Church in France and the moral ambiguities that power plays in a religious face. The easy comparison would be to The Da Vinci Code, so I will make that one. Personally, I liked this book much better than Dan Brown’s derivative opus. For one, the characters are interesting. Also, the mystery is more entertaining. I don’t want to get into details, but let’s just say this book is willing to take its time revealing the secrets. Speaking of which, don’t pick this one up expecting all the answers. This is just volume one.
In the tradition of great mysteries, an unlikely hero is pulled into a vast and frightening chaos. In this case, Parisian physician Julien Saunière makes the unforgivable mistake of helping a friend. He then refuses to stop asking questions, like any detective worth his salt. As our main detective, Dr. Saunière is a clever choice. He is educated and tenacious, but he doesn’t know how to investigate. This leads to some endearing bungling.
The things that make this book work are the characters. A mystery lives and dies by the characters that fill the pages. The protagonist, antagonist, and supporting tagonists all need to be compelling. I can happily report that this is the case here. I wanted to see what happened next, but, more than that, I wanted to see how the characters would react. My personal favorite tagonist is Brother Matthew. He is what Sherlock Holmes might have been, had Holmes been a monk. He is even cooler and more awkward than you might think.
If I were forced to level a complaint against the book, it would be a small one. The book spends a lot of time following one character, who is fairly obviously the antagonist. This sounds like a huge complaint for a mystery, but if there isn’t much question about who, there are plenty of questions about the what, how, and most importantly, the why. These keep the book rolling along nicely, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that the guy is tremendously interesting.
Perhaps the most impressive part of this book is the ability it has to generate momentum. I’m not really speaking of the plotting, which is not afraid to take its time. Rather, I am referring to the gravity of the next page. At some point in the story, I had to keep turning the pages. I was actually shocked when I got to the end of the book. Remember the bit in the first paragraph about this being volume one? Well, it caught me completely off guard. I think that is the best compliment one can pay to part one of however many. I didn’t want it to end.
Four Mysterious References to the Merovingian out of Five.