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City In The Desert Volume One: The Monster Problem
posted January 13, 2014

imageCreator: Moro Rogers
Publishing Information: Archaia, hardcover, 144 pages, November 2012, $24.95
Ordering Numbers: 1936393557 (ISBN10); 9781936393558 (ISBN13)

I liked this just fine. The first volume of the City In The Desert series introduces us to Irro and Hari, the monster-hunter for the desert city of Kevala and his sort-of-a-monster assistant. They are paid a bounty for each monster killed -- a combination of protection and purchase of the monster's carcass itself. It is a declining profession: few are employed for protection in a way that might make the city more economically viable; the monster themselves are less of a lucrative item dead body to dead body. It turns out that the monsters are connected to the village through a sacred fountain (the story underlines this by using a monster-and-man focused creation myth as its framing sequence), which a religious sect suggests be plugged up. As will not be surprising to any reader, I don't think, their are nefarious intentions involved in doing this as it seemingly allows the sect and their allies in the city walls to exploit facets of the monster/townspeople symbiosis. Our heroes are unaffected, which brings conflict to flower. The end of the story shows them struggling to deal with this knowledge and the implications of the sect's seemingly bad intentions.

This strikes me as a very young creator's book. It looks lively and loose. The design work proves fun across the board, particularly in terms of the monsters but also with the human and near-human figures. We are definitely marched through the land of broad storytelling approaches, though: the characters are much more types than individuals, and there wasn't a single plot progression that didn't seem inevitable if was not outright telegraphed. What's strange about this with The Monster Problem is that the detail work and the mythical fundament employed are both slightly offbeat and thus intriguing; it's like there's this Disney adventure cartoon/kids fantasy book overlay that binds the story in the same way that the monster fountain seems to have clamped down on and made torpid the city of its setting. A lot of information is conveyed through dialogue in a way that's narratively slack, which again is curious because some of what we learn is indeed shown to us and cartoonist Moro Rogers has a natural, cinematic feel for staging action scenes. This is one of the Archaia books where the beautiful formatting seems to be doing a small disfavor to the material: even if in later volumes we get a compelling, fantastic payoff regarding the raw storytelling ingredients presented here, this individual book will almost certainly feel a bit affected, its characters and their interactions more rote than remarkable, a book that might have been tightened up, maybe even challenged, before making it onto shelves. It's a good thing to want to read a fifth or sixth book in a series upon seeing a first, but rarely because of what you find lacking in that initial encounter.