Amala’s Blade Is a Cut Above
Steve Horton’s Amala’s Blade has a smart and capable protagonist. Once you get to know her, you will pray she’s always your ally and never your enemy. Amala’s adventures transform her from a single-minded assassin to a force for the greater good. Once you are done with this installment of Amala’s Blade, you’ll be wondering what the future holds for our young heroine. Mr. Horton, please may we have some more?
In Amala’s world, The Purifiers and the Modifiers have a tenuous peace. As an assassin in the employ of the Vizier, she treads a dangerous path even for someone as skilled as she is. What she doesn’t realize is that her conspicuous ways of killing will soon run her afoul of her employer. So it goes in the life of an assassin.
The Amala’s Blade trade paperback includes the three-part “Skulls and Crossbows” arc released in Dark Horse Presents #9-11, the four-part story “Spirits of Namaaron,” and the eight-page “Amala’s Blade: The Pitch” telling of her origin. In these pages, Horton’s script and Dialynas’ art combine to create a bright and proactive character in Amala. It is easy to get sucked into Dialynas detailed environments and gadgets galore. Plus, there is a map. I love a book that leads with a map.
In “Skull and Crossbows” Amala takes on a ship full of pirates, plus a modified monkey. Even though Amala is a skilled fighter and quite capable on her own, Horton shows us that she is not immune from parental nagging. Her father appears to her as a ghost and asks her to seek her true destiny. Hint: her destiny isn’t killing people. But the job at hand is to dispose of the pirate captain, Cha’kooh. He proves a bit tougher to extinguish than expected. Amala finally prevails a smart remark before lodging a dagger in his gut.
The Vizier has set Amala up to fail on her latest mission in the “Spirits of Namaaron.” She discovers that her target is a person from her past. A person whom she is extremely reluctant to kill. Now, Amala must decide to carry out orders or defy the Vizier and save the realm instead of tear it apart. Horton adds a supporting cast that includes her allies (Smitty, Ren, and the ghost of the modifier monkey), her enemies (Vizier, Magister, and Prince Markos), and her latest target Lady Strawbale. Plus, many more ghosts appear to guide Amala on her mission. Most importantly, the modifier monkey shows up again.
“Amala’s Blade: The Pitch” is Amala’s origin story. An intimidating duo from the Ministry, Victor and Ms. Thimblethread, show up at the Strawbale home. They tell Amala’s parents that her destiny is to be the next Lama and keep the peace between Purifier and Modifier factions. When Amala overhears that she would be taken from her home and raised by the state without her parents, she climbs out her window. Once on the streets, Tyrone finds her and introduces her to the Sword Orphans. A different future is set in motion.
Throughout each arc, Horton remains true to the character he created. Amala is more than capable and takes each mission seriously. He also shows us that she is not only impressive in action, but also able to have close bonds to other people. Visually, Amala is a warrior. From her armor to weapons to scowl, Dialynas depicts her as a practical professional. Her clothing and accessories are just what any assassin would need. No fishnets or cleavage. How novel.
For all that I liked about Amala’s characterization, I wished that Amala had more interaction with other female characters. She is primarily surrounded by a host of male characters. And, she finds herself in conflict with her mother. I would love to see her be a mentor or caregiver to a younger female character. Or just have a female best friend in the next installment.
Recommendation: For readers of Girl Genius, Nausicaa, and probably a host of other manga titles, which I’ve never read unfortunately. I should fix that.
Buy a physical copy to be delivered to yourself: Amala’s Blade: Spirits of Naamaron TPB