Moro Roberts’ City in the Desert is a strong debut from a new voice in graphic fiction. With simple lines and bold words, Roberts creates a new, yet startlingly familiar world, where good and evil are linked together inextricably.
Monster hunter Irro is perhaps the only person in Kevala making a good living. The city pays him and his tailed assistant, Hari, a bounty for each monster carcass they bring in. But one day a religious sect called The Way of the Sacred Peace comes to Kevala to solve the monster problem by capping the city’s Spirit Fountain. Out of a job with all the monsters gone, Irro and Hari are determined to prove that there is a more sinister plot behind the Sacred Peace’s plan.
The first thing one notices when reading City in the Desert is the art. Moro Roberts creates a great deal of personality from relatively few lines. Her characters are mostly outlines, with their body shapes and positions revealing much more about characters than any degree of hyper-rendering could achieve. The contrast between the blocky, angular body of Irro and the curving, lithe body of Hari explains as much about their personalities as it does about their life experiences. Irro is the cynical, seen-it-all bounty hunter while Hari is full of wide-eyed enthusiasm.
Even more visually arresting are the fierce creatures which stalk the edges of the desert. As much suggestion as fully-developed nightmare, the monsters prove difficult for even the best monster hunters to defeat. They are snarling beasts which look like they just sprang from the depths of the underworld.
The battles between man and beast are brutal and bloody. It is high risk for little reward as Irro finds it more and more difficult to collect a fair bounty for the carcasses. As expressive as the faces are, Morro’s depiction of body language shows the true disappointment felt by the characters.
The story is pretty simple at its core, but that is what makes it so powerful. There is no long, overblown explanations. No deep metaphysical exploration of the nature of good and evil. All of those things are left to the reader to decipher and determine. The reader creates their own meaning, making this a truly all-ages story. Children will enjoy the action and adventure while adults will find the deeper meanings hidden between the panels. A per son ca return to The City in the Desert time and time again and get something different each time.
My only complaint is that the book ended. This is the first volume of a much longer story. Hopefully it will not be too long before we see the next volume!
City in the Desert Volume 1 is available now.