Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Walter and Wolfram's fight comes to its conclusion in a gruesome, but not undeserved, way. Although the battle is won, however, there's still a war to fight, and the three forest cantons join forces to take the fight to the next level, honoring their dead all the while.
Spoiler Warning: In order to fully review this book, a fairly major spoiler must be discussed. Proceed at your own risk.
Vertical isn't a publisher known for lengthy back cover copy describing the story, and in the case of the sixth volume of Mitsuhisa Kuji's grim historic tale Wolfsmund, they both outdo themselves and take the low road. The back cover simply reads “The bailiff takes one up his ass – but they aren't done yet.” In all honesty, yes, that is precisely what happens. The utterly unrepentant Wolfram does, in fact, take a sharpened stake up the ass, symbolic, perhaps of how he treated the people during his tenure at Wolfsmund, and it is true that even with him out of the way, the fight for freedom continues. But with a story this grave, it might have been more appropriate to be a little less clever with the summary.
Regardless of the seriousness (or lack there of) in the publisher's summary, the beginning of this volume is very satisfying in that Wolfram is finally dealt with. That said, his end is gruesome and more than a little uncomfortable. If you are a firm believer in an eye for an eye, then you are more likely to cheer his execution, but if deliberate cruelty makes you wary, no matter who it is given to, then this is discomfiting. It isn't that Wolfram doesn't deserve the impalement, and it is a historically verified manner of execution – popular discourse has England's Edward II dying via red-hot poker in 1327 and this story takes place in 1315. But it is gruesome and it is torture, and for some readers, that's going to make for some difficult pages, no matter how happy we might be at his removal.
After those first two chapters, the story takes a different turn. Gotthard Pass was just one step in the battle for Swiss independence from the Hapsburgs, and now the forest cantons' joint forces are ready to take the next one. But before that they must honor their dead in what at first appears to be a night of drunken revelry, complete with Orgy Hut. We see this scene through the eyes of Johann, a young halberdier whose hands were burned during the storming of the Wolf's Maw, and thus couldn't actually kill any enemies. He's upset about it and his role in general, especially when his superiors tell him that he can't take a lady to the Hut since he didn't prove his worth as a soldier. They instead send him off to find a famed lutenist who left his instrument at the inn before the battle, wanting some music to accompany the feasting and dancing. Johann thus begins running all over the camp and town trying to find him, speaking to the other soldiers and townsfolk and learning what the toll of the battle really was. Yes, there was victory, but like all wars, it came with a price, one that Johann in his youth had not considered. Wolfram wasn't the only one who died, and for every dead soldier, there is a person who mourns. This dovetails nicely with Johann's earlier encounter with a beautiful widow, one of many who has come to the town to find a new husband and to be with people who survived the battle, where her husband did not. It is not just weapons that Johann and his fellows must carry into battle, he realizes, but also the memories of the dead, who made it possible for the fights to go on. This chapter resonates if you have lost someone yourself, and Kuji doesn't overstate it, letting Johann and the readers come to the conclusion themselves. It is a brief respite from the fighting and the chapter works well in that way for both the readers and the characters before diving back into battle with the final one. It also reminds us that not everyone has been freed with the bailiff's demise, interspersing the frantic merriment with scenes of a group of soldiers stranded in a look-out who do not know what has transpired at the fort. They are a good counterpoint to the festivities, showing us that there is yet work to be done for the Swiss to truly obtain their freedom.
Wolfsmund has never been a series that holds back, and this volume is no exception. Although its middle chapters are somewhat lighter and certainly less violent, Kuji still infuses them with a sense of urgency and never lets us forget that this is a larger story than the one on the page. March of 1316 (when freedom was attained) is still a ways off for the soldiers and their ghosts, and it will be interesting to see how far the story actually takes us now that the main goal of the earlier volumes has been achieved. With its gray, angular art and unstinting historical detail (do note how similar the siege engine looks to Wolfram's stake), Wolfsmund's sixth book is harsh and difficult...and still nearly impossible to put down.
Overall : A-
Story : A
Art : B+
+ Doesn't skimp on the horror or history, the bailiff gets what he deserves. Festival scene is more important than it at first appears.
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