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Wednesday, 7 March 2012

In Review: Crusade - The Fire Beaks

The Crusade that has been lost to history reaches its climax in The Fire Beaks, the fourth book of writer Jean Dufaux and artist Philippe Xavier's saga.

The Crusader armies, now lead by the mercenary Lord Of Machines, mass against Hierus Halem. In the city the Saracen leader Sultan Abdul Razim and the Christian noblewoman he is in love with, Syria of Arcos, are visited by the mysterious Mufti of Alkar and they discuss how to prevent the oncoming battle. The Sultan allows Syria to return to the Crusader camp as he prepares to defile the Holy Sepulchre that the Crusaders are fighting for. Meanwhile Syria's former lover, Gauthier of Flanders, leads a Jewish army to Hierus Halem to help the Crusaders, however when they arrive there the death and destruction of the battle for the city has already begun.

The previous three Crusade books have been both delightful and frustrating in equal measures, delightful for Xavier's artwork which highlights both the supernatural sections of the plot and the dynamism of the battles, and frustrating as the complex plot separated its main characters early on, giving them very separate journeys before bringing them back together for this final battle.

The synopsis above merely scratches the surface of what is going on in the 48 pages of this book. Dufaux's story really needs to be read as one long four section saga rather than as four individual books and I think that the threads of the story will bind together better that way rather than read over a longer period - Cinebook have only taken a year to publish all four titles in the series, it took Le Lombard in France two years. The irony of the plot in this book is that while the Crusaders want Hierus Halem (Jerusalem) for themselves, the Master of Machines is only interested in the city as the means to an end, that of acquiring the region beyond it known as the Fire Beaks. The significance of the, until then unexplained, Fire Beaks is left to virtually the final page of the book and it will raise a wry smile in the reader.

Rereading the four books would not be as big a chore as it may sound due to Philippe Xavier's lovely artwork throughout. Xavier's covers are amongst the most striking of any of Cinebook's titles and the way he uses his panels in the battle sequences remains as striking here as it was in the first book. I certainly look forward to seeing if Cinebook decide to publish anymore titles illustrated by Philippe Xavier and there are another two Crusade titles already published in France which begin a new story cycle for Gauthier.

Crusade - The Fire Beaks with its lovely artwork and intriguingly complex plot brings this supernatural saga to a fitting climax which is both political and bloody in fairly even measures.

• The are more details of the Crusade books on the Cinebook website.

• There are more details of the original Croisade books on Le Lombard website (in French) including details of the fifth and sixth books in the series.

• The downthetubes reviews of the previous books in there series are below:
Crusade 1 - Simoun Dja
Crusade 2 - Qa'Dj
Crusade 3 - The Master Of Machines

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