A faraway land, warring kingdoms, and brave warriors: fans of fantasy are likely familiar with this setting. Insert into this setting the trope of a young warrior who has the weight of responsibility thrust on him and you have the situation of young Kayeer Rushmal. From the shadow of his brother to a role as his country’s newest protector, Kayeer rises to serve as the protagonist/warrior philosopher in the debut story from artist and writer Kia Ahankoob, The Gold Lion: and the Tournament of Sentinels.
Kayeeer’s nation is but one of eight different nations, each based on different real-world cultures and all fighting for dominance. After years of fighting and no one gaining the upper hand, all the nations decide to hold a martial arts tournament. Each nation picks a representative, a sentinel, to enter the tournament and the winner’s nation will rule the world. All the sentinels own a magical ring given to each nation by the Myriad, that world’s Supreme Being. Each ring has different magical abilities; some rings allow for flight while others allow the wearer to form their body into literal stabbing and bludgeoning weapons. The sentinels must use their ring’s unique magical abilities and their own martial prowess until there is only one winner, and his or her country will rule all the nations.
Kayeer serves the book well as a protagonist who acts as the reader’s entry into this world. He has just inherited the role of Gold Lion, his nation’s sentinel, from his brother and must also overcome his own doubts as well as the other sentinels. Adding to his ordeal is the pressure put upon him by his nation’s ruler as well as the fact that his former lover is also in the tournament. Kayeer’s polar opposite and main antagonist is the Black Eagle, who not only killed Kayeer’s brother but who also believes wholeheartedly in his mission. Ahankoob has created, in the Black Eagle, an antagonist with more than one dimension. The Black Eagle is not specifically evil, but he is fiercely patriotic and believes in the superiority of his nation. If this was simply a fantasy novel, then it could have been a really solid fantasy story.
But Ahankoob’s artwork seems ill-equipped to get into what is an important part of the book: the actual combat. A simplistic art style doesn’t automatically bring down the aesthetic of a graphic novel, but the art here has trouble depicting the actual combat between the Sentinels. These are people whose rings give them power of elements like water and earth, as well as electricity and even time, but the fights themselves don’t come off as very dynamic. There are panels where punches are being thrown and some powers are used, but library patrons have access to manga and a myriad of superhero movies (not to mention the comics that originated them). Compared to those, the fight scenes in Gold Lion seem particularly flat. What’s worse is that the lack of punch in these action scenes leave the powers of the rings themselves ill-defined. Some, like earth and fire, are obvious, but ring powers like the vision ring seem to be rather nebulous and confusing.
There’s a good story here in The Gold Lion: and the Tournament of Sentinels, but the book doesn’t ultimately live up to its potential. If there is any kind of tournament, in a graphic novel format, there should be action, perhaps a few dynamic camera angles that border on the cinematic, or closeups that show the damage fist, foot, and magic can do to the human form, elements which this book sadly lacks. The characters in this book are fully fleshed-out and readers should be able to root for them, but they cannot hope to compete against much more action-oriented titles that librarians can get for their collections.
The Gold Lion: And the Tournament of Sentinels
By Kia Ahankoob
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)