Thursday, January 29, 2009

King of Thorn!

The science-fiction genre (like any other genre) has seen its share of endlessly recycled and rehashed plots over the past decade. Every so often, however, an author can take familiar elements and thread them together to create a story that is refreshing and captivating. Yuji Iwahara’s King of Thorn takes the tired idea of a human-race-threatening pandemic, the ever-out-of-reach concept of cryogenic freezing, and a pinch of Jurassic Park and spins a story that is both heart-wrenching and terrifying.

KoT opens with an image of a teenage girl named Kasumi realizing that she will have to be separated from her twin sister. In the wake of an incurable disease called “medusa” (it causes a hardening of the cells, organs, and skin), Kasumi is chosen as one of 160 infected humans to be cryogenically frozen until a cure is found. The separation of her from her twin is a cruel emotional twist: Kasumi continually asks herself why she was chosen to live, but her sister was not.

Upon awakening, Kasumi finds that thick growths of thorny vines have covered the inside of the lab and no one seems to be able to find who deactivated the cryogenic system. Without warning, a swarm of beasts that resemble mutated dinosaurs tear apart most of the humans who left their capsules.

Kasumi finds herself as part of a group of seven survivors determined to escape with their lives and figure out why no one is left in the lab to explain anything. All of them are condemned to die if they don’t act quickly: those who aren’t devoured also have the medusa disease slowly killing them from the inside.

King of Thorn packs in some incredibly tense escape scenes, as the nightmare creatures pop up time and again to hunt the survivors. The artwork is clean and consistent: characters are easy to distinguish from one another and the action sequences—while hectic and manic—never get to the point where they are impossible to follow.

The first volume contains a stunning series of illustrations when one of the characters suffers an emotional breakdown after stumbling upon an abandoned power station filled with human bodies. There are no speech bubbles for two full pages—Iwahara conveys all reactions through his masterful illustrations of eyes and facial expressions.

KoT’s break-neck pacing and constant sense of being hunted will leave you feeling just as breathless and confused as the cast of characters. The series is a scant 6 volumes, which means that answers come quickly in the following books. A number of twists complicate the relationships between all of the characters, but the biggest mystery is still the question of exactly how much time has passed between the deep freeze and the awakening.

No comments: