The action pieces in Sword Daughter are so profoundly good that you almost forget it is the subtle details of this story that make it such a masterpiece. Brian Wood continues to surprise me with his ability to craft an ornate tapestry of complicated emotion told in such a concise way. Not a moment is wasted, and every panel counts. This is a grand reminder that a simple story can be just as affecting, if not more, than a complicated one.
There is a proliferation of “fatherhood material” floating around the media landscape these days. Films like Eighth Grade and video games like God of War are just two recent examples of stories that feature a single father shepherding their young one through all kinds of rough-and-tumble situations, typically as a metaphor for growing up. I don’t know why this is so popular, but it rarely fails to be deeply moving. Sword Daughter is no exception. A dad must escort his daughter through danger in order achieve a goal. In doing so, they grow closer as a family, and the little one acclimates to a future where they must leave the nest and fend for themselves. I am sure I’ll get sick of this motif eventually, but, for now, it makes me heave-cry and call my dad. We’ve never been closer.
Up until this issue, we have only heard from the narrator, but never seen her. We knew that it was an older version of Elsbeth (the sword daughter herself), but we didn’t know where she was or the context of her speaking. This issue finally presents the other side. The reveal is deeply gruesome and very satisfying. Again, Wood has a firm grasp on his story. We only get enough to keep us fully invested. Both parallel adventures, Elsbeth’s past self and present, are unique and delicate in their own ways, both serving a narrative purpose that feels carefully balanced to challenge our expectations.
Mack Chater is the artist on the book. The portraits and landscapes have often stopped me dead in my tracks just so I can take a moment to marvel. I wish the sword play was a little different, if only because I found myself lost in it a few times. This isn’t a huge criticism, as these scenes almost always leave a reader having to use their imagination. Action is hard to capture. Let’s say the art is near perfect.
This review is gushing with praise, and Sword Daughter deserves it. I can’t wait to read more.
Creative Team: Brian Wood (writer), Mack Chater (art), Lauren Affe (color)
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
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