Lewis Trondheim, one of the creators of Dungeon, returns to medieval fantasy with Ralph Azham. However, as with Dungeon before it, don’t let the genre put you off. This isn’t knights fighting dragons and rescuing princesses. It’s the story of a humble peasant village, precariously balanced in a valley, with flood water coming one way and a ravaging horde approaching from the other.
Trondheim’s focus is on the titular character Ralph. Having been exposed to a bizarre lunar transformation, he was selected to try out to become the ‘chosen one’, and taken away from the village amidst great expectations. However, with his special power turning out to be the ability to tell whether people are pregnant or not, he apparently didn’t make the grade. He returns to the village but is treated badly, and spends much of his time tied up with the pigs as a punishment for misbehaviour.
Trondheim’s makes his characters look like they’re part animal, in a very similar style to Dungeon. This makes a fairly large cast of characters very easy to keep track of. It also helps with family relationships, so you know, for example, that the characters that have feline heads are all related.
The dialogue can occasionally be stilted but it maintains a good humour throughout, providing a delicate balance between laughs and action.
Ralph Azham is an unimposing little book that hides surprising depths. Trondheim builds his characters slowly and with great skill, weaving them around the plot with a deft touch. It’s well worth a read, particularly if you’re already a Trondheim fan.