Amala’s Blade is a rip-roaring fantasy adventure tale, full of stealthy action, political intrigue, physical comedy, and a gaggle of ghosts. Created by Steve Horton and Michael Dialynas, this Dark Horse original seamlessly blends genres and moves deftly between comedy and drama as the consequences of Amala’s decisions threaten to overtake her future, and possibly lead to re-igniting war between the Purifiers and Modifiers. Ah, Purifiers and Modifiers. Written and lettered by Horton, with art and colors by Dialynas, the world of Naamaron is rich in history and atmosphere, as well as rife with tensions between the steam-and-machine-altered Modifiers and the as-they-were-born Purifiers, creating a fantasy landscape that feels like it has existed long before we meet the assassin heroine of Amala.
As much as I want to delve into the story, I would be robbing you of the pleasure of discovery. While Amala’s Blade offers so much more beyond basic plot discovery, the layers of Amala’s character and her integral role in Naamaron’s past, present, and future are so intrinsically tied to the unfolding narrative, and her choices so important, that story and character come together in perfect unison, a feat which creators always strive to accomplish, and which Horton and Dialynas have actually accomplished in spades. Amala’s mysterious past is revealed throughout the story, the bigger picture coming into focus as her struggles dangerously escalate, until she eventually finds herself on the wrong side of everyone, including her own conflicting conscience. This is a story about a war between two externally different political groups, but it is also about the war within Amala, who bucked against her destiny, creating a life based on monetary gain and paved with the blood of her victims. A skilled assassin, Amala finds herself haunted by the ghosts of those she has killed, and others, including her father. At times, these ghosts impede her missions with their moral questions and at other times interfere to assist her. No matter that they may have fallen under her sword, these are not malicious spirits, and that is one of the beautiful, small touches of this story. No matter how violent it may get, or how hopeless the circumstances may seem, it is all anchored with a surprising amount of heart, not to mention comedy.
The superb character designs by Dialynas are stunningly detailed, with chips and scratches in outfits, armor, and faces that relay a sense of a lifetime of struggle and war, and the Modifiers, with their steampunk-inspired mechanical accessories are varied and interesting, no one Modifier looking the same as another. The color palette speaks to the fantastic fantasy elements in Amala’s Blade, with deep and varied browns and reds, mixed with a multitude of blue hues, including the light blue of the ghosts that haunt Amala. Horton’s lettering brings a wonderful crackle to the story, enhancing the action with humorous and exciting sound effects that work in tandem with the solid, streamlined, and wholly unique art. Amala’s Blade was one of the best single-issue miniseries I read last year, and this collection of that first story arc of issues zero through four, titled Spirits of Naamaron, brings it all together wonderfully, complete with an artist gallery containing character designs and sketches, and the original eight-page pitch that Horton and Dialynas sent to Dark Horse.
It is interesting to see the process of Dialynas’ character development and how the art style changed slightly from pitch to zero issue to issue one, though it is obvious to see that the world of Amala existed from the beginning of it all. As complex, exciting, and breathtaking a world as Horton and Dialynas have created, it is the conflicted, tormented, often arrogant, as well as hilarious, character of Amala that drives this story and makes it such an engaging and enjoyable read. I cannot wait to see what lies in store for Amala and the land of Naamaron, but I know whatever it is, it will be worth the wait.