There is no shortage of King Arthur reimaginings, adding some twists here and there to freshen up the story of the prince of Camelot, beloved of Merlin, wielder of Excalibur. Changing up names and adding in lore from another medieval hero, The Orphan King tries its own hand at the legend of Arthur.
The Orphan King Volume One
James Boyle (artist), Pete Carlsson (letterer), Tyler Chin-Tanner (writer), Andrew Dalhouse (colorist)
A Wave Blue World
September 7, 2021
The Orphan King opens with an introduction to the orphan himself. Prince Kaidan is being ferried back from the mystical isle of Lythonese, earlier than expected. His teacher and aunt, the Lady Taleissa, left ahead of him and has yet to return, so Kaidan, feeling that three years absence has been enough, takes it upon himself to return home. Unfortunately, there is no home to return to. His kingdom of Aesolan has been destroyed and is now under a warlord’s rule.
Artist James Boyle keeps the focus on the foreground, but doesn’t get too caught up in details and shading. There are some beautiful landscape scenes revealing the kingdom from a distance, but otherwise, backgrounds are simple, with muted, warm colours keeping everything calm — except when the action heats up. Most of the emotion and expressiveness is saved for Kaidan, with everyone, including horses, looking bored or grumpy.
Skipping back and forth in time, the story shapes Kaidan with some basic details. As a young boy, he is an entitled prince, but not without compassion and a willingness to learn. His father, King Gorlan, edges on being that too stern king who doesn’t necessarily give his people good reason to love him, but they, like Kaidan, respect his authority.
Taking on the Merlin/Lady of the Lake role is Lady Taleissa, though we don’t spend enough time with her, or with the others on Lythonese, aka the “Isle of Woman,” to get much of a feel for the character. Often, Merlin is depicted as aloof, stern, and mysterious, but here, Taleissa is simply a nonentity until she returns and proves herself to be otherwise.
Many of the characters who appear along Kaidan’s journey tend to fall back into the background thanks to lighthanded characterization. One character, Rob, stands out only because of his bright green hooded cloak and his penchant for robbing from the rich and giving to the poor. Though not written memorably enough for the reader to find any of the supporting cast of interest, they all seem to play enough of a guiding role in Kaidan’s life for us to expect to see them again at some point.
This first volume wraps up its major storyline fairly quickly, establishing what Kaidan may be up against on his quest to retake his stolen throne. The story could use a bit more meat to flesh out characters and plot elements, but it moves Kaidan forward enough, while still maintaining a sense of mystery.