One of the most eagerly anticipated indie books of recent years is PJ Montgomery and Gavin Mitchell’s adaption of Steve Jackson’s The Trolltooth Wars in graphic novel form. Two years in since it was first funded on Kickstarter, it has achieved near mythic status on the small press scene, as speculation about when it would finally see the light of day has grown with every pasing month. But as we discovered in our recent interview, it’s finally here and we’ve been given a fantastic first look – so does it live up to the wait?
Writer: PJ Montgomery
Artist: Gavin Mitchell
Based on the novel by Fighting Fantasy co-creator Steve Jackson, The Trolltooth Wars takes place in the world of Titan (home of the FF universe) which is in the midst of a war betweeen two powerful sorcerers – Zharrradan Marr and Balthus Dire. After one of Marr’s caravans (containing the mystical substance known as Cunnelworth, that allows the user to enter spitriual plains) is attacked by Dire’s goblins, the tensions rise between the two old enemies, causing them to escalate their conflict, leading to an epic showdown in the Trolltooth Pass. In the middle of this, the human kingdom of Salamonis, send their courtly hero Shadda Darkmane on a mission to prevent one side from gaining the upper hand over the other (and conquering their kingdom as a result) in a journey which takes Darkmane into the heart of Firetop Mountain to encounter its legendary warlock Zagor.
If you grew up in the 1980s reading Fighting Fantasy then this will be an amazing trip down memory lane, just like the recent Freedom Fighter adaptation from Titan Comics – which it is every bit the equal of. But don’t worry if you are new to the world, as the story is straight forward enough that it all makes sense and isn’t filled with too many oblique references that make it impossible to follow.
With it being based on a prose novel, the story is more linear than a traditional FF book and so feels very closely aligned with the original. Montgomery has created a faithful retelling of the book – flaws and all – and makes the most of classic scenes like the caravan raid at the beginning or the scenes in Firetop Mountain. With Darkmane’s quest giving the book a solid centre to build the action around, it contains loads of familiar tropes from quest based fantasy stories, including treasure, taverns and mischievous mercenaries. By making the most of this strong source material, and not trying to reinvent the wheel, Montgomery and Mitchell have not only created a great adaptation they have also created a truly top notch fantasy book!
Although the story is set across a whole realm and the centrepiece is a huge battle, The Trolltooth Wars still feels relatively intimate, focusing on character and not spectacle. As such it doesn’t get bogged down in over doing the huge sweeping battle scenes, instead focusing on the actions of the characters, which makes it so much more readable. There’s also a cleanliness and simplicity to the characters which is a nice counter point to some of the more complex and gritty (i.e. mud soaked) fantasy books of recent years. And it’s not all serious either, as Montgomery manages to bring an element of humour into the book thanks to sidekick Cherval, whose dry sense of humour and his attempts to make his hero eat healthily give the book a light touch where needed – but without ever veering into parody. This is in turn helped by Mitchell’s outstanding characterisation and little knowing glances to the reader.
In fact, Mitchell’s work throughout is incredible. His labour of love to finish this book over the past two years has reaped ample rewards with every page looking truly exceptional. The action leaps off the page when needed to, especially in the epic battle scenes, and the design and rendering of the key characters is top notch. They are faithfully realised, yet packed with Mitchell’s trademark personality, especially Dire who has a real snarling prescnce to him with angular and pointy demonic features that make his a fantastic villain for the piece. The big reveal of Zagor is almost goose bump inducing (especially for long time fans) and makes for a truly stand out moment!
The presentation is also helped by the superb colouring and lettering throughout that adds a real sense of quality to the art. From the greens and blues of Dire’s dungeon to the natural tones of the forests, and the warm purples and reds of Firetop Mountain, every page crackles with energy and life, bringing characters like the sinister Ganjees to life in spectacular fashion. This depth of tone and colour is followed through with the lettering, which Mitchell has done himself, and so allows the text to truly inhabit the artwork.
If we were being critical we’d say that is does feel rather small scale compared to a Tolkien esque epic, as well as feeling like a fairly trad fantasy tale, but again, that is as much to do with the source material as it is the adaptation (and we prefer to think of the scale as a positive). We also felt that the back story involving Dire and Marr felt a little confusing at times (we had to read it several times to truly make sense of it all) and at times felt almost tacked on to the main quest, while the ending fell a bit flat too, and almost felt rushed compared to the rest of the book. However these are minor points on what is a truly wonderful read.
So has The Trolltooth Wars been worth the wait? As someone who wasn’t a backer, and who hasn’t been waiting for two years for it to arrive on my door step, it’s easy for me to say yes. However, in terms of quality you cannot fault it and you would be hard pressed to feel ripped off by a book of this calibre. If you didn’t know better you would assume it was put out by Titan or a big name publisher, it is that damn good! Packed full of character and humour, action and excitement (plus a generous amount of gore and violence!), it avoids getting bogged down by some of the more over wraught elements that the fantasy genre can be guilty of, and as a result The Trolltooth Wars is a truly epic fantasy in every sense!