In the genre of fantasy, world-building is everything. First off, without a compelling and fully realized setting, fantasy can come off as silly to those who aren’t die-hard fans. Second, so much has been built off a common collection of tropes and traits that those die-hard fans will tune out pretty quickly if things aren’t in some way unique and individual. Luckily, Rose #1, from writer Meredith Finch and artist Ig Guara, benefits from establishing a world that is both distinctive and well-realized, with interesting characters at its center.
The story takes place in a world where magic was once commonplace, personified in the creatures known as Khatz, creatures who resemble large felines that have been paired with a magically endowed human and who together resented peace and order. But some time ago the Khatz vanished, magic went with them, and tyrants rose to fill the vacuum and take control. In the brutal world that has arisen in the years since, a young girl named Rose is showing evidence of these lost magical abilities. Meanwhile, the despotic and sadistic queen Drucilla cuts a bloody swath or repression and brutality across the land in her efforts to rule and prevent the return of magic. Will Rose be safe from the Queen’s reach?
I’m not the world’s biggest fan of fantasy of this type, but I enjoyed Rose #1. Finch has clearly a love for the genre and mines the tropes of what makes these stories effective without seeming derivative or uninspired. Of course, Rose #1 is immediately recognizable as a fantasy story, what with its medieval feudal villages, peasants and bucolic settings juxtaposed against warriors in armor and palace intrigue. Finch is smart enough to inject enough earthy vulgarity and explicit content to satisfy the “Game of Thrones” fans, even as she nicely weaves in the more high-minded and romantic poetical side that probably originated with Tolkien (or even Thomas Malory). The central main characters, Rose, Drucilla, revel Ila and likely antiheroic Dante, may be very much archetypes, but they are well-drawn ones. If the story beats of Rose #1 feel familiar, I’d argue that they are more mythic than rote, and if you are a person who enjoys these kinds of magical stories, then these kinds of touchstones are to be expected.
The art by Guara is appropriately lush and executed with a painterly approach that is pretty effective for the genre, but it also retains a feeling of jeopardy and a visceral tone that permits for moments that come across with more impact. There’s a great level of detail to the art, with fine control that results in more than a few really gorgeous panels. The elements that deal with Rose and her simple village life evoke a pastoral and bucolic feel before slipping into violence, while the Drucilla sections are appropriately dark and debauched. The colors by Triona Farrell play an integral role in dilenating the different moods of each setting, so tha the warm and vibrant colors of the Rose sections are juxtaposed nicely with the cool steely blues of the Drucilla scenes. That may seem obvious, but this is a genre that traffics pretty heavily in archetypes, so it’s fitting.
Overall, for lovers of the fantasy genre there’s plenty here to enjoy, and with solid characters and a firm and specific handle on the world-building, Rose #1 is a nice opener to what could be a solidly satisfying epic in the making. 8/10