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Record of Lodoss War: The Grey Witch. Written by Ryo Mizuno. Translated by Laura Jackson and Yoko Kobayashi. Illustrated by Yoshihiko Ochi. New York: CPM Manga, 1999. 214p. $15.95. ISBN 1-56219-919-6.


Adults, teens, kids; violence

NOTE: This book collects issues 1-7 of Record of Lodoss War: The Grey Witch.

ANOTHER NOTE: I have not seen the anime on which the Lodoss War stories are based. I believe this book stands apart from the stories in the anime.

On the island of Lodoss, a blind poet sings "The Poem of the Six Heroes" to a female elf, Deedlit. As he finishes, they are ambushed by goblins. The elf blinds the goblins with a flash of light, and the two escape. Elsewhere, the dwarf Ghim leaves the Shrine of Marfa in search of the missing daughter of the Cleric of Marfa. He sets off for the village of Zaxon, where the soldier Parn is in the tavern, desperately trying to get the villages to join him in fighting off the encroaching goblins. The townspeople refuse because nothing has happened yet, and Parn stomps out of the tavern. Outside, he meets up with his old friend Etoh, a Pharis priest. The two set out to fight the goblins; Parn wipes out a bunch but is wounded. Ghim, arriving, rushes in to help. With the goblins all dead, Parn collapses, victim of a poisoned sword. Ghim and Etoh carry him home and fetch the sorcerer Slayn, who brings an antidote. While unconscious, Parn dreams of his childhood and how his knightly father died in disgrace for some as-yet unknown transgression. Some time later, Parn, now recovered, invites Ghim and Slayn to join himself and Etoh in fighting for justice--seeking out and destroying the monsters in Lodoss. The two accept.

Elsewhere, on the southeast corner of Lodoss, a fleet of ships from the dark island of Marmo approaches a coastal fortress. With a snap of her fingers, a female wizard utterly destroys the fortress for her liege, Emperor Beld of Marmo. His goal: rulership of Lodoss.

The quartet of evil-slayers arrive at the city of Allan, in the middle of a festival to honor the birth of a son to the king. Looking for an inn, they encounter a woman tussling with some street thugs. Parn immediately joins on the side of the woman, who turns out to be Deedlit. Despite friction between her and Ghim, she repairs to the inn with the group, where she and Parn fill one another in on their respective histories. Naturally, Parn asks her to join the group.

Elsewhere, Woodchuck, a thief, recently released from jail, finds that his skills are rusty. He tries to become an official of the Thieves' Guild, but they reject his application. However, they give him an assignment that requires help. Getting a drink at the same in as the group of evil-slayers, Woodchuck overhears Slayn talking about how he visited his old school in Allan to find it destroyed and deserted by an evil student. The thief approaches the group claiming to know where the goods from the school are hidden, and after the others agree to listen to him, Woodchuck describes how the stuff is being held in a manor in the forest, guarded by a dark elf and an ogre. Worse, several humans with the Marmo crest have been seen there. The group decides to join Woodchuck in investigating the place.

The group sneaks up on the house, and Slayn creates an illusion to distract the dark elf and ogre. Parn, Deedlit, and Ghim make short work of the ogre; Deedlit sends Parn, Etoh, and Ghim into the house while she, Woodchuck, and Slayn deal with the dark elf. Eventually defeating the house's inhabitants, the adventurers find papers detailing a plot to assassinate the King of Allania, though the materials from Slayn's school are not in the house.

The King of Allania is grateful for the adventurers' information and rewards them substantially. Parn gives half the money to Woodchuck and invites the thief into the group. He accepts. Just then, a messenger comes in with the news about the invasion by Marmo. The Allanian government seems to act slowly on the news, so the adventurers head for the kingdom of Valis, hoping to rally that king and his subjects. To get there, they have to cross the Forest of No Return. Luckily, that's Deedlit's territory.

Oh, Dungeons and Dragons has a lot to answer for. The fantasy subgenre of D&D-type quests is arguably the weakest, most limited, most poorly written type of swords-and-sorcery (not that other forms of S&S are much better). However, having said that, I also have to say that as a representative of this genre, this book is better than average--though I just had to roll my eyes at the utterly stereotypical set of questers: knight, priest, wizard, dwarf, elf, thief. The only thing missing was a hobbit. But despite Mizuno's brief admission at the beginning of the book that this was his first-ever Lodoss story and it makes him cringe, it's really not bad at all, though it moves rather slowly in spots and could use a bit more action. One thing that makes this book a cut above its peers is its many little humanizing episodes. For example, while Parn and Deedlit talk, Deedlit expounds on the differences between elves and dwarves. When she rhetorically asks Parn, "You know what I mean?", he blushes and says, "Uhhh... I kinda do and kinda don't," and Deedlit's head drops in disgust.

The characters are more well-rounded than is typical in such fiction. The best are Parn, Deedlit, Ghim, and Woodchuck (the latter is almost a textbook example of a neutral good thief). The dialogue between Ghim and Deedlit is very good; the latter relationship moves amusingly from traded insults (we-are-natural-enemies) to toasts and hoisted mugs of ale (we-respect-one-another) (which is another cliche of the genre, though done with considerable logic and believability here). Etoh doesn't have a lot to do, so we don't really get to know him, and Slayn is somewhat distant, which makes him hard to fathom.

In large part, the story succeeds because Ochi's art is so adept at showing subtle facial expressions and conveying emotion through glances and looks. His fight scenes do NOT have the usual manga tendency to be unrecognizable blurs of action; thus, it's easy to understand who does what. There's surprising little gore--but then, there's surprisingly little fighting going on. Anyway, Ochi's style is vastly superior to the overdetailed, ultra-messy-in-the-fight-scenes art of this book's companion, Record of Lodoss War: The Lady of Pharis. (The Grey Witch, though written before the other book, takes place after that one.) Give me simpler over cluttered every day!

I'm not sure if the books that continue this story have been collected yet. I hope so. This is an entertaining work of fantasy that will please both fans of the anime and general fantasy readers.

Buy it directly from CPM Manga!

Copyright 2000, D. Aviva Rothschild


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