Amala was supposed to have a grand destiny: she was meant to unite the tech-loving Modifiers and tech-wary Purifiers, who have been at war for twenty years, but destiny just isn’t working out. After running away as a child, Amala was taken in by a martial cult and became an assassin. Now, she works for the Vizier, a sower of chaos who sends her after Modifier and Purifier targets with equal satisfaction. Amala’s fighting skills are unmatched. She’s never failed the Vizier. But, her new target is different, and for once, the only thing worse than failing her mission might be completing it.
Amala’s Blade: Spirits of Naamaron is a rough-and-tumble action story. Amala kills dozens of people, from unlucky guards to menacing pirates and other assassins, and she rarely seems bothered by the blood on her hands. She claims to be in it for the money, and while she doesn’t seem to enjoy killing for killing’s sake, she’s not above cracking a joke while shooting a sentry in the head. Amala’s nonchalant attitude is easier to understand when one takes into account that the dead never really leave her. After all, she sees and converses with ghosts. Moments after she kills someone, their spirit will likely pop up beside her to chat, apparently not holding a grudge. Sometimes, the ghosts even help her fight. In a sense, killing people allows Amala to transform her enemies into friends and allies. Still, it’s a pleasant surprise when two guards Amala thoughtlessly dispatches are later humanized by the display of dismay of someone who knew them personally.
At the beginning of each chapter, a detailed map of the kingdom of Naamaron is split into two halves. On one side live the Modifiers, who revere technology and integrate it into their bodies; on the other side live the Purifiers, who use machinery but remain skeptical and certainly aren’t about to get any high-tech implants. Of course, the term “high-tech” is relative. The Purifiers use steam-powered machinery, though some of it is very complex, such as flying machines and automatic weapons. The Modifier tech looks almost the same, except it includes lasers and holograms. Though the Purifiers have tanks and the Modifiers have battle robots, most of the fighting is still hand-to-hand, using weapons no more sophisticated than a crossbow. Sure, the Modifier swords have laser blades, but both sides are essentially using the same technology in combat.
The plot develops slowly as the story begins with a burst of action with a teaspoon of world-building. After Amala is given her fateful new assignment, things move more quickly: encounters with ghosts and people from Amala’s past illuminate the events that took place before the current storyline, even as that story hurtles toward a large battle and a surprisingly neat conclusion. At the end, a bonus chapter gives us even more insight into Amala’s background.
The art is gritty and bold. The chunky, angular lines and distinct strokes of color suggest that it was created digitally, which I confirmed through research on the volume’s illustrator. The steampunk feel of the world is reinforced by details like the grimy, scuffed appearance of its armor, tech, and its characters. The pages include a colorful palette comprised mostly of earth tones, making the art feel unified. Though there is plenty of violence and plenty of blood, none of it feels gratuitous or especially gut-wrenching.
It’s worth mentioning that this book consistently presents Amala, the young female assassin, as an active, resourceful, and capable character who dresses and behaves in ways that make logical sense. In other words, she isn’t a typical fan fiction sex object. It’s unfortunate and sad that this is worth praising in itself and that it’s unusual enough to attract my attention. Indeed, part of the reason I picked up this book was because the cover featured a female warrior wearing sensible armor—including a breastplate that isn’t adorned with giant metal boobs!
Amala’s Blade: Spirits of Naamaron has heart, even if Amala’s ethics are a little shady. Recommend this one to fans of action-packed stories and heroes who just might be anti-heroes.
Amala’s Blade: Spirits of Naamaron
by Steve Horton
Art by Michael Dialynas
Dark Horse Books, 2014