The Order of the Stick: Utterly Dwarfed
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  1. - Top - End - #1441
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    And some current action...

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    Chrys has upped her game in a major way during the time skip. Before, she could only control her own blood and use it to make bombs/acid weapons with it. Not that great and she had to use her own blood to do it. Anemia anyone? Now though, she is able to control blood in *other* people's bodies, at least at close range. She's a lot more dangerous now. About the only person that would be immune would be Ariel. And Naal is hitching a ride here. I wonder if something is going to happen here that shows that she isn't a normal demon, like being able to use mana powers in some way. I wonder how long Snad's agent is going to last.
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    Quote Originally Posted by HandofShadows View Post
    And some current action...

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    Chrys has upped her game in a major way during the time skip. Before, she could only control her own blood and use it to make bombs/acid weapons with it. Not that great and she had to use her own blood to do it. Anemia anyone? Now though, she is able to control blood in *other* people's bodies, at least at close range. She's a lot more dangerous now. About the only person that would be immune would be Ariel. And Naal is hitching a ride here. I wonder if something is going to happen here that shows that she isn't a normal demon, like being able to use mana powers in some way. I wonder how long Snad's agent is going to last.
    It reminds me of how Zala could sneakily use earth magic on Sarv without anyone noticing. I wonder if it's a bloodline trait. Anyway, it's great storytelling that, while Chrys has become stronger and more decisive, it won't solve her real problems, like her taint and her mother's empire being on the brink of collapse.

    Anyway, here is the Chapter 1 review.

    This has to be at least the third version of this chapter. It follows quite closely the previous version, however, adding in a name here and there, as well as Lulianne.

    The cover is obviously filled with symbolism about Arielís family. I donít find it particularly enticing: it doesnít propose us any stakes. For a comparison, the old cover for this chapter had a fearful Ariel shadowed by dark-clothed Syphile, who menacingly glared at her over her shoulder. The chapter title, ďDaughters of SarghressĒ, also doesnít mean anything if you arenít already acquainted with the comic, and this is chapter 1. However, I think it reflects an intention in making the character about more than just Ariel.

    The first, unnumbered page was made at the same time as the Prologue. The text comes from the old side story ďSpiderbornĒ. Itís very synthetic and foreboding: it sets up Quain as a scary, insulting and demanding warlord-boss, while we see Syphile putting herself between a rock (Quain) and a hard place (her inability to raise a child). While she is bullied into making this choice, she still doesnít seem to be completely forced, which is good for leaving some ambiguity about how guilty she is for her own situation.

    The main theme is the desire for freedom; less important themes are expectations vs reality, and, for Syphile, how the weak retaliates for the wrongs inflicted on her on those even weaker.

    Speaking of characters, I liked the treatment of Syphile: while her actions are worth a life sentence, she isnít just some evil woman, as we are informed through non-verbal means. The comic carefully shows that sheís been beaten. She is, like Ariel, a victim, but also, like Quain, an abuser.
    We also once see her sadly examine a doll of herself, red-eyed and angry faced. At her side is a doll of the idealised Quain, pink and reassuring. It's a good way to portray her reflecting on how others see her.
    On one occasion, she carries her cloak around wrapped on her arm like a coat; we only see her wearing it when she is in the throne room and after Quain beat her. It could be just a matter of formal attire, or an attempt to protect herself with something of a Linus blanket.
    She also clearly is, unlike Koil, a core member of Quainís innermost circle. She is aware of Arielís nature, she is informed of Kelís plan of having Ariel trained in Orthobbae, and, in spite of her failure, she is asked her opinon of Sillice.

    Ariel, at the start, is simply a child that wants to live with some freedom and be accepted by her mother. This first chapter, however, already sets off the main traits of her story. She is a character without rivals or substitutes, who instead finds herself challenged by many mentors and parent figures, each with different goals and expectations. To avoid being crushed, she will have to choose a side and to learn whom to trust.

    Ariel loves him, but Kel is, well, a prick. I am not sure of whether this is how the writing was intended, but he is aware of how Syphile is treating Ariel, and of how lacking her ways of teaching are. However, instead of warning and correcting her -- which would have made Arielís life a lot better -- he prefers to stay silent until the end of the ten years, and point his accusing finger at Syphile when sheís standing before Quain.
    Now, to talk about him as intended: the fact that he lives outside the fortress immediately makes him a symbol of freedom, and the proof that that world outside really exists; since he is likeable, that world also must be likeable. What is interesting is that Kel actually isn't nice. He refuses to hold Ariel's hand, and he is stern and inquisitive. However, he is fair, he takes her side when she is about to fail, and he presents her new challenges (the chapter ends with introduction of the quest of learning how to use magic) with words of encouragement.

    Letís get to the writing. The opening scene is how Ariel imagines Quain. Itís not bad, but I think that using a lot of participles was a mistakes. It makes reading harder, without adding anything. . A more stringent problem, however, is represented by the transition from daydream to direct speech addressing Quain, because it isnít evident that sheís talking to Quainís doll. Rather than starting out directly with the daydream, I think it would have been better to start out with a panel of Ariel.
    In general, this whole introduction could probably have been about Ariel talking to the doll. It already is a pink, idealised version of Quain. It wears a crown like a political leader, and an armour like a warrior, so itís already all in there.
    Ariel should also have changed stance when Syphile approached, to show more of their relationship.

    Rarely, we find fairly long, unnecessary texts extraneous to the story, like Kelís lesson, a bit of cosmology that never comes to matter, or a very long sale pitch for a gauntlet. In particular, I find that the substitution of Kel using roleplay for teaching purpose with a frontal, verbose lesson that seems just as hard as reading a book and was a mistake. Koil will also receive a good introduction in the next chapter, and there was no use in showing her here, since she is reduced to clutter.

    Overall, I think this is a good chapter. The art is great, although, occasionally, it zooms out too much when it should instead zoom in on a character. I like how physical everything looks. Sure, there is something odd in the colouring, so that, at the start, all has a slightly muddy look. However, the expressions are good, and so are almost all of the gestures and poses. Ariel moves gleefully. The clothes are great, and I particularly love the design of Quainís short mantle.

    I only am not sure about Ariel. The old chapter, I think, let you immerse more in her character. She narrated most of it, which let her personality slip through. Itís possible that completing Syphileís character took part of the focus away from her. And, while I generally am a fan of fewer captions, which is something this version clearly strove for, the next chapter gets back to the old style of first-person narration, and was not edited to match the changes in chapter 1.
    Quote Originally Posted by J.R.R. Tolkien, 1955
    I thought Tom Bombadil dreadful ó but worse still was the announcer's preliminary remarks that Goldberry was his daughter (!), and that Willowman was an ally of Mordor (!!).

  3. - Top - End - #1443
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    A short review for a short sidestory: Machike's Conquest

    The main theme of this issue is: new vs old, with the resolution: new subsumes old and learns from it.

    I personally love this chapter. The art, by an external artist, Donny, is good, in both colouring and lineart; there is a lot of movement, the camera is always at the right place, and we often change the framing to show various elements, without ruining the unity of combat. There is room for emotion on the face of the fighters and for the marvellous in magic blasts from towers and gigantic siege beasts laden with soldiers.

    Another element of quality is how the story stays on its main themes. After these establishing shots, the incessant drumming that accompanies the assault stops and the story concentrates on Quain. We are shown her refusal of a duel (her starting situation), because she sees no advantage into it. Once she is about to enter the fortress, Rosof, her (future) mentor, starts berating her on her behaviour. She must be persuaded or pissed enough to accept a duel from him. Rosof loses, but speaks the same language as Quain by asking her to spare his men (a request she appreciates) in exchange for the great wolves, so that she offers them a place with her. The important thing is that Quain leaves with a lesson learnt: strength needs law and honour to sustain itself, and traditions that uphold them are far from useless.

    The last page is not really part of this story, but instead serves as a link for the transformation of the mercenary band into a clan.

    This may be the best issue dealing with a large battle, mostly because the point isnít the battle itself. Itís Quainís growth.
    Quote Originally Posted by J.R.R. Tolkien, 1955
    I thought Tom Bombadil dreadful ó but worse still was the announcer's preliminary remarks that Goldberry was his daughter (!), and that Willowman was an ally of Mordor (!!).

  4. - Top - End - #1444
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    The Chapter 2 Review

    The main theme of this chapter is discovery. A secondary theme is gender conflict (which, in Drowtales, assumes traits more similar to caste conflict).

    The chapter is divided in three parts: Quillís explanation of how Quain works, the introduction to underworld and Orthorbbae, and the aggression after the self-defence class.
    Although itís 92 pages long, there isnít much to say about this chapter, as it mostly has an introductive function: Ariel is introduced to Quainís mentality, to the clans and the underworld, Drow society, her own sorcery, her classmates, the mystery of the ninth tower, Kelís plan, Tralyn, and Faen. This happens on the background of a plethora of potential new mentors, of which only Quill and Tralyn will have a role in Arielís future. When the story leaves Arielís point of view, it also shows Kelís objectives and the Headmasters thoughts, which is necessary to understand why they would allow Ariel among their students.

    Itís a good introduction, because most of what we are told will find use later (except the economic information given by Kel). Narratively useless lessons at Orthorbbae are skipped entirely.

    Part of the new information serves as framing for the final aggression. Clan relations motivate Nau. Mirkiinís motivation is gender conflict, a theme that is recurrent throughout the chapter and worries masters and students equally. Khal enjoys having minions, as we already knew through his bone golem. That this extends to actual people is first shown during the aggression: heís in it either to enslave Ariel, or to turn her into a golem, but he achieves his objective by successfully manipulating Mirkiin instead. The long introduction of the gemstones pays off when itís the cause of Arielís fall, in spite of her superior flying skills.

    The ending opens a new prospective with the introduction of Faen, whose kindness puts her at odds with the cutthroat environment of Orthorbbae. She is Arielís first ally, and, as many of the characters we met in this chapter, here to stay relevant for a long time, a couple of them becoming protagonists of their own stories (Chrys and Kiel), and others permanent sidekicks (Faen and Nau).

    If I have a critique to make, it is about the immense text wall of page 42. We donít need it, because much of the tower will be shown anyway, and parts of it, like the cafeteria, are irrelevant.

    A second critique is the lack of harmonisation with the new chapter 1. Unlike it, chaper 2 features lots of first person narration by Ariel. It also references a roleplaying session between Ariel and Kel, which was removed from chapter 1.
    I also am not sure that we need Yafein, since he will be rather inconsequential. He is Arielís first lesson on trust, but she will have a lot of them in the next chapters. I have read that he used to have more of an arc in the very first version of the Orthorbbae story, so he might be vestigial.

    When it comes to the art, itís easy to see that it took years to complete this chapter. The page size changes over time, the art becomes crisper, and we see the ill effects of compression decrease. In particular, I enjoy the return of lineart, which was absent from the wolf in the first pages. At page 23, we reencounter the stylised drawings of ancient history we had met in the Prologue: here, they clearly are carved reliefs, and part of the scenery. Funnily enough, they show the solution of the riddle of the ninth tower: a tower is hanging from the rooftop.

    The cover, representing a dreamy Ariel staring into the world outside, looks very appropriate.

    Fun fact: the myth about lions throwing cubs off cliffs doesnít come from any manga or anime in particular, and itís instead a Japanese legend first recorded in the XIV century historical epic called Taiheiki.
    Quote Originally Posted by J.R.R. Tolkien, 1955
    I thought Tom Bombadil dreadful ó but worse still was the announcer's preliminary remarks that Goldberry was his daughter (!), and that Willowman was an ally of Mordor (!!).

  5. - Top - End - #1445
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    The review for Chapter 3: Torn.

    The cover of Torn is foreboding, but slightly puzzling. We recognise the room where the Headmasters talked about Ariel. Ariel, at the bottom, is surmounted by Faen and Kel behind her. Over these two, loom respectively Snadhya and Quain. Because of the Kel-Quain relationship, one could think that Faen is affiliated to Snadhya. What is really meant is that choosing Kel means that Ariel will stay under Quainís control, while choosing Faen will have her drift under Snadhyaís. Since we still have to see Snadhya, except for a small portrait in the Prologue, this only becomes clear while reading the chapter.

    Torn has two themes: being an outcast (in Orthorbbae) and the quest for recognition (after the talk with Quain); this theme will last for the entire ďkill MirkiinĒ arc.

    The chapter, at 48 pages, is fairly long, and broken up in sections that follow different characters. This is a deliberate choice, inspired to the Chronicles of Ice and Fire and to popular response to other chapters of Drowtales.
    The first section portrays Faen rescuing Ariel, and reminds us that she also is a reject. The second section informs us of Arielís introversion, her trips to the girls area as her friendship with Faen grows, and the beginning of her special training. The third section is completely dedicated to and narrated by Faen, and explains her descent into empathy-powered anxiety, introduces Naal, and reveals that something is rotten in Orthorbbae. The fourth section shows Ariel is still a reject, as her teammates abandon her. We see her first use of shapechanging, and she meets Sarnel for the first time. The fifth section shows that Snadhya has become aware of Ariel. The sixth section is very long. It features the bureaucratic attempt to transfer Ariel to the girls area, Kel taking her to Quain, Quain giving Ariel her new quest (bring her Mirkiin), and the meeting with Faen. The last section shows the acquisition of Maya and Liriel.
    Overall, I admire how well the story transitions from one section to the other. The only scene that I had trouble putting into context was the one with Syphile, which I assume was a flashback (but was still well placed from a writing perspective).

    Down to the writing. Beside the division in scenes, the chapter thematically consists of two parts. The first part is about Ariel, Faen, and being rejects. The second part, which starts after the arena battle, deals with Arielís friendship with Faen, contrasted to her obligations to her mentors. However, Ariel may be torn, but isnít undecided. In page 37, Faen is the first one to tell Ariel that she can defy her familyís orders, but in page 41 Ariel already has chosen to obey them, and is on her quest to find allies and kill Mirkiin. Given Kelís foreboding remarks about the role of an heir, itís a foregone conclusion, which is this chapterís weak point. It also sets the only course Ariel will follow in Drowtales: she will never strive to be anything more than a very good Sarghress, the one exception being the journey to the surface.
    I also have spent a lot of time reading Drowtales, but I have never understood the rules regulating student leaves and visits in Orthorbbae. Since seeing Faen would depend on them, this is clearly a problem.
    Another problem is the non-sequitur that introduces the search for a slave warrior, at page 42. We suddenly see the just-purchased Maya, and Faen is very embarrassed, but how did it happen? Didnít they check what they were buying? According to Ariel, they talked about it, so it wasnít done on a whim. If the intention was to show how Ariel, now acting for the first time outside the supervision of her mentors, is walking a tentative approach and learning from her mistakes as she goes, it should have been shown, rather than left for guessing.

    What else? The chapter, like ch. 2, ends with a fight, but, this time, with Faenís help, Arielís the winner. Once again, the final fight is the expedient used to introduce a new character, Liriel. Lirielís master is one of the first lessons Ariel has to learn about not trusting people, after Kelís words of warning due to Jerkol and after Yafein left her alone in chapter 2.
    By the way, Yafein is given a little coat of opportunism in this chapter, which may already have been latent in chapter 2. Itís a pity that we wonít see more of this aspect. Yafein the Coward and Opportunist/Manipulator would have been more interesting than just Yafein the Coward.

    I now would like to say some words about Sarnel. His appearance in the Arena sets the tone for the second part of the chapter (ďthe clan comes firstĒ). He makes for a fine contrast with Ariel, since he is what Ariel should have been, had Syphile done her job. While Ariel spent her childhood being abused and belittled, Sarnel grew a robust sense of his own honour, and was taught that others must recognise him. While Arielís decisions are based on her personal attachment to Kel, Quain, or Faen, Sarnel puts the Clan itself above anything: which would mean above any particular person.
    This, however, means Sarnel enters the story ready and done, and will never develop beyond this point.

    When it comes to the art, this was the first chapter made by four artist working together in the same physical space. I think it looks good, and the shots are the right ones. In particular, I like that Faen looks unsettling, which I assume was a deliberate choice, and the gigantic red eyes that scare her. Sometimes, however, more lineart would have been nice instead of just shading. The differentiation of facial features will only come in later. And Kel in particular looks rather wooden (his odd hand as he grabs JerkolÖ).

    Side note: Kel says that Ariel only disobeys his orders when itís necessary for her mental health. That means that heís giving her orders that would drive her insane, and Quain is apparently OK with it.

    Other side note: how did Sarnel end up alone? Did he teamkill his whole team to increase the Sarghress final score, which was kept by him only?
    Quote Originally Posted by J.R.R. Tolkien, 1955
    I thought Tom Bombadil dreadful ó but worse still was the announcer's preliminary remarks that Goldberry was his daughter (!), and that Willowman was an ally of Mordor (!!).

  6. - Top - End - #1446
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    Isn't it sad Snad? 😂 After all the death and chaos she created its satisfying to see her smug facade crumble.
    Poor Koil though 😯👀
    Last edited by Nerdette090; 2019-09-05 at 07:47 AM. Reason: Update

  7. - Top - End - #1447
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    Would love to make Snads sadder if I could. So much death because she couldn't take over Diva's place. Well, there is a REASON didn't give you the job of Empress.
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    Quote Originally Posted by HandofShadows View Post
    Would love to make Snads sadder if I could. So much death because she couldn't take over Diva's place. Well, there is a REASON didn't give you the job of Empress.
    And yet Snad tries to play the blame game-It's always someone else's fault, be it her mother's followers, commoners, incompetent minions etc. She seems to put a lot of trust in Wiam Val'Jaal'darya however, I wonder if there is more behind that character? Where is Mel?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Nerdette090 View Post
    Where is Mel?
    I'm worried she might be in a crystal in Snads's bedroom.
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    Is... that Mel?

    Her killing Kel'noz isn't the least bit surprising, but
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    I do rather wonder when she gave up on Ariel. Even if they have severe... philosophical differences, I thought they were on reasonable terms otherwise.

    I assume this means bad things for Zhor.

  11. - Top - End - #1451
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    I think you may be right.

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    If it is, she crossed a line she can't come back from. Quain may have been a terrible person/mother, but killing your own twin to get "revenge" on her after she had been dead three years is beyond the pale.
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    I've got to say, I'm happy I stopped posting the reviews. I actually have a good number of them I didn't put on the forum, but they contained critiques about the overall arches of a few characters like Mel, and they would have been pretty partial. Even Baliir looks more organic now.
    Quote Originally Posted by J.R.R. Tolkien, 1955
    I thought Tom Bombadil dreadful ó but worse still was the announcer's preliminary remarks that Goldberry was his daughter (!), and that Willowman was an ally of Mordor (!!).

  13. - Top - End - #1453
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    Well, Ariel is starting to fight now, and she does not look happy. About time she started kicking peoples behinds. It's the only way anyone in Chel will listen (to anyone).
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    So it really IS Mandroga! I had wondered because of his unique makeup, and now I ask myself a lot of things: how is a man ruling the Sargh, and how he survived Quain, and also how did his daughter die.


    And what about Rosof?
    Quote Originally Posted by J.R.R. Tolkien, 1955
    I thought Tom Bombadil dreadful ó but worse still was the announcer's preliminary remarks that Goldberry was his daughter (!), and that Willowman was an ally of Mordor (!!).

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    Quote Originally Posted by Vinyadan View Post
    And what about Rosof?
    Vanished or dead IIRC. Certainly not in any leadership position anymore.
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    It's mentioned here that he's "gone", so I assume he finally died from mana deprivation.

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