Adventurers can often find themselves in situations that exceed their capabilities. Less often, they become the situation that others need to handle. That’s why I was intrigued and engaged as soon as I cracked Scales and Scoundrels open' it’s a wondrous power fantasy that whisks the reader to a phenomenally built world that delights the mind and moves the heart. I have been telling stories like this around a table with dice for a long time, and I can feel it when the story sings. This is an aria.
Writer Sebastian Girner doesn’t want to give up his secrets easily. We meet our protagonist in a high-stakes situation that, of course, goes south quite quickly, which allows the pace to pull us along with the cavalier and plucky Lu who turns out to be anything but. Powering through opposition and good sense with equal ease, Lu punks group after group with skill and sarcasm, and gosh-darn-it-all she’s fun to root for. While we are presented to someone who doesn’t obey the rules of common society, we see that she’s dealing with some mighty big issues of her own, ones that blow any other concerns right out of the water. Girner knows how to write a fun protagonist, how to build up lore and a world to contain it, and how to have fun doing it. There’s an incredible depth to the world that Girner has put together, and I can’t help but compare Luvander to Vash the Stampede, the same amount of love, duty, and core belief in basic decency that the spiky haired demon espoused. Adding to that is a well-developed cast of supporting characters who are all given multiple chances to shine, each wholly rounded out with their own needs and stories. No one gets left out from a time to shine.
If the story plots like Trigun, it’s fully backed up by the fun and exultation on display by artist Galaad. Every frame plays beautifully; the compositions leap from the page and the action is second to none. All of the character designs are fun and unique, helping to evoke the characters and allow the reader’s mind to lull into a “comic” feel that plays against the seriousness of the issues of individuality, duty, and personal responsibility. If a colorful and delightfully clad character can be brought up against themselves with such force of plotting and personal struggle, it makes the examination of self so accessible to every reader. It’s what I love the most about the style on display; it’s not a “kiddie” book that speaks down to its audience, but rather a book that uplifts and normalizes the introspection that is required for growth. Galaad empowers the reader through his imagining of this world, letting us care about the characters in a way that reminds us that all of the messiness of life is valid and that control is just a word that means picking up the pieces every time that plans fall apart and making what comes of it better for ourselves and others.
It has taken a long time for me to narrow down why books like this matter so much to me. It’s because the world is BIG, and that can be scary. Sometimes, we keep moving through the BIGness because we think that if we don’t, it will crush us. It can’t. Stories like this one show us, teach us, why: because you cannot crush a spirit that knows joy. This book never sacrifices joy. There is pain, regret, loss, danger, moral ambiguity…but there remains joy. When I learned about the mechanisms of comedic relief from a literary standpoint, it was drilled into me that it’s because we need to give the reader a break from heavy subjects. I think that this team has found a better way, that life is a complex symphony of feelings and thoughts, with certain parts fading to the background but never entirely gone, only resting. There is joy everywhere, and it’s not just readers who need a break, it’s us. Scales and Scoundrels is a book that gives us the permission to allow our joy to shine even in the most dire circumstance, and it does it while telling a rollicking tale that has just about anything you could want within it. Find some joy today; I can recommend a book.
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Creative Team: Sebastian Girner (Writer), Galaad (Artist), Jeff Powell (Lettering and Design)
Publisher: TKO Studios
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