A Sparrow’s Roar
Writer: C.R. Chua & Paolo Chikiamco
Artist: C.R. Chua
Publisher: BOOM! Studios / BOOM! Box
In A Sparrow’s Roar, the latest graphic novel from the creative team of C.R. Chua and Paolo Chikiamco published by Boom! Studios, an intriguing and dangerous plot menaces the peaceful medieval kingdom of Unity. It’s a book filled with action, betrayal, mistaken identity and deceitful appearance, as well as hope, friendship and responsibility.
The book follows Per of Esterpike, a young knight-in-training who watches helplessly as her sister, hero and leader of Lions, Elena of Esterpike is assassinated by a barbarian horde. In order to keep the peace and fragile alliance with the other kingdoms, Per begins impersonating Elena to keep the kingdom of Esterpike, and perhaps all of Unity, from falling apart. This leads Per to discover a vast conspiracy against the entire kingdom.
After a rocky and unconvincing start, A Sparrow’s Roar finds its footing around the halfway mark. When the book begins, Elena is dead and Per has begun impersonating her. In spite of a few flashback scenes to establish the characters, we don’t really get a good sense of who those two sisters are or who the main players of the story are. Since there is an air of mystery, it’s not immediately clear who the characters are and what their roles are in this ambitious and large world. At the halfway point, the story becomes much clearer and more understandable, but the characters unfortunately remain underdeveloped until the very end of the book.
Our main protagonist Per, in particular, is very underwritten. We learn she is brash, insecure and good with a sword and not with a bow, all things that her sister Elena was not. That’s about all we learn about her throughout the entire book. Even as the story progress and the mystery begins to unravel, we still don’t get to learn much more about Per. It’s difficult to explain, but in trying to impersonate Elena, she says she’s trying to be more like her, but we never truly get a sense that that’s the case. She’s just as brash and insecure as ever. It’s a detriment to the story since we only see her react to the events around her rather than meaningfully engage with them, she’s constantly impulsive and unsure if she’s doing the right thing. I wished there was more to our protagonist.
A Sparrow’s Roar is odd in that while it struggles to properly depict its characters, the story of the world of Unity is itself exceptionally clear and comprehensive. It’s almost as if Chua and Chikiamco were able to portray the larger universe rather than the characters. I was constantly unclear as to who was who, and what they were supposed to be, but when it came to the relations between the kingdoms, the types of society they were from, what their relationship to Esterpike and the whole of Unity was, things were much clearer. It was a fascinating exercise in dissonance as the Universe itself is usually just a backdrop for the story of the characters, but here, the world in which the story takes place is so riveting, layered and complex, it was hard not to be enthralled by all of the details of this world.
Chua’s art is gorgeous and the definite highlight of this graphic novel. His characters are expressive and energetic. However, depicting character’s faces appears to be a struggle. Not so much in displaying emotions, but rather in the variety of faces we see, it’s quite limited. Per and Elena are twins and similar by design, but many other characters faces were indistinguishable from one another. This being said, emotions and movement were clear throughout the book. A lot of the story focuses on action and sword fighting and in that regard, Chua’s work is clear, clean and easy to follow. You can always easily tell where characters are, what they are doing and what they are planning next. The book shines when action sequences are taking place.
Ultimately, A Sparrow’s Roar, while uneven at times, has a lot of positive things going on. It’s an interesting world of intrigue, action and an interesting look at sisterhood and expectations. It’s not perfect, but it’s a solid young adult medieval fantasy book nonetheless.