Justin du Coeur (jducoeur) wrote,
Justin du Coeur
jducoeur

TRoOB: Rex Mundi

My comic book tastes have, frankly, gotten more mainstream in recent years -- I've been sucked back into more superheroes, and finding a bit less weird stuff that grabs me. But there is still call for The Review of Obscure Books now and then. I honestly don't remember whether I've reviewed Rex Mundi before, but what the heck: it deserves the attention.

Being behind as always, I just read issue 15, which is spectacularly timely -- suffice it to say, it ties rather elegantly into the Gospel of Judas, despite having come out several months before the craze started. That sort of synchronicity feels appropriate for a book so deeply into the Deep Secrets of the World.

Rex Mundi is -- well, it's sort of in the same genre as Dan Brown, but rather subtler and deeper. It's an alternate-history story, set in a variant 1933, but it does an admirable job of avoiding the usual, "Look, look: the world changed like *this*" exposition. In fact, several years into the story, I still haven't quite sussed where the divergence occurred -- certainly by Napoleon's time, but beyond that I'm not sure. Regardless, this is a world where World War I never happened, and the great empires are still very much in place. It takes place in a Paris still ruled by a mostly-offscreen King Louis XXII, who is locked in a very quiet power struggle with the Duc de Lorraine, who wants to start a new Crusade against the Cordovan Emirate. Yes, you can draw modern-day political parallels, but to its credit they are quite subtle.

Just as subtle is the place of magic in this world. It's pretty clear that magic does exist, and that people know it does -- but it is closely controlled, and very rarely used. Indeed, I can't think of any other story I've seen that has magic that uses it so little. By contrast, ritual is very much in the background, whether by the omnipresent Inquisition, or the shadowy Templars.

And there we get into the main plot. Yes, it's another Templar hunt, full of mysterious codes and strange historical backstory. In that respect, it's fairly conventional. Our hero is Dr. Julien Sauniere, who is dragged into the story quite by accident, but has the classic flaw of being unable to let an unsolved puzzle go. So he gets deeper and deeper, trying to understand who the Templars really are, and what their great secret is. Meanwhile, the secondary plot grows, as Lorraine draws France closer and closer to starting the first true world war -- apparently quite intentionally, but for reasons that are solely his own.

The series has its weaknesses. The writing is decent, but never quite great, and Dr. Sauniere always comes across as a bit implausibly thick about what a dangerous game he's playing. But the pacing is fine and deliberate, and the story quite intriguing, with a great supporting cast. Lorraine himself makes a delightful villain, clearly planning to take over the world, but never quite tipping his hand as to how. It's a fine book for those who like a juicy mystery, and have the patience to follow it...
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