Written by C. R. Chua & Paolo Chikiamco and with art by C. R. Chua, A Sparrow’s Roar is an action adventure comic that features a dark story of war, political maneuvering and revenge.
Per is a Sparrow, a warrior in training, who can’t wait to become a Lion, a full-fledged warrior of Esterpike. The proud people of Esterpike are part of an alliance of nation states known as Unity, and Per’s older sister Elena is soon to be appointed as a General of the ruling council, in recognition of the part she played in halting a rebel force that threatened the capital. During a celebration held in Elena’s honour, Per impersonates her sister by wearing her armor and is mistaken for her when an enemy force attacks their village. Elena comes to Per’s rescue during the subsequent battle but is killed right in front of Per’s eyes. Now Per must continue to pretend to be Elena in order to secure aid for Esterpike from the Capital. Will Per be able to keep up the ruse and navigate the tricky political situation amongst the Council of Generals, where they all have their own agenda and not everyone can be trusted?
The world of A Sparrow’s Roar really intrigues me. The four nation states were originally all part of a single empire but, long ago, a wise Empress sought to create a more democratic system and divided the empire up and created the Council of Generals. The Council is led by a Supreme General who is elected by the four members of the council. Each Nation in Unity has distinct characteristics and, while we aren’t given a ton of details about all of them, we get the impression that they have their own unique cultures and histories. They all have different strengths that they bring to the table, making their alliance a mutually beneficial situation, but there is still some conflict amongst the Generals and they sometimes struggle to work together, especially since the position of Supreme General currently sits empty. The political situation troubling Unity struck me as being fairly realistic, especially the rebellion. The dissolution of an empire into a system that gives the different nations more autonomy seems like it would be a pretty straightforwardly good thing, but, like with any major change, not everyone is happy with it. Cambria is a Nation dedicated to science and they had developed many advanced weapons that were locked away in a vault when the Empire was dissolved in favour of the new council system, and the members of the rebellion seek to reclaim that lost power. The villains aren’t portrayed as being entirely evil, however; they’re complicated characters with their own motivations who believe entirely in their cause. There’s a beautiful two page spread towards the end of the book that presents Per and the main antagonist as reflections of each other, showing how they both valued their family and had suffered loss. Conversely, not all of the characters on the Per’s side are necessarily entirely good. One of Per’s allies decides to detain all Cambrian citizens in the capital in response to the revolt, regardless of whether or not there is any evidence that they are conspiring with the rebels. This unjust situation mirrors the real world detention of American and Canadian citizens with Japanese ancestry by their own governments during the 2nd World War and is another example of how authentic the characters and politics in A Sparrow’s Roar can feel, despite the fantasy setting.
Unfortunately, the short length of this comic means that we don’t get to explore either the world or some of the ideas presented in the book in very great depth. There were also some plot points that seemed rushed and left me feeling a bit confused. For example, I wasn’t really sure what motivated Per to take her sister’s armour and pretend to be her in the first place. Her sister had just finished scolding her not a minute before because she’d forged a letter in Elena’s name and, for some reason, she then decides that impersonating her sister would be a good idea? I really don’t know what she expected to get out of it. There’s also an escape of sorts that happens later on in the book where I’m a bit fuzzy on exactly how it happened. The basic mode of escape is explained, but all of the details of how it came about are left to our imagination. I’m not saying we necessarily needed to be shown the whole thing, but a little more explanation would have been helpful. That way, the impact of the reveal that they got away wouldn’t have been lessened for me because I was too busy trying to figure out what exactly had happened.
I really feel that this story would have benefitted from a longer treatment. If it had been stretched out over two or three volumes we could have delved into Per’s character a bit more. This comic is ostensibly a coming of age story for her, yet I don’t feel like we fully explored her grief, her inferiority complex or her feelings of guilt and trauma surrounding her sister’s death. As it stands, I couldn’t help but feel that we were following the story of the wrong sister. The “masquerading as her sister” element of the plot didn’t really add anything to the narrative and if Elena had just been the main character we wouldn’t have had to waste any time on that. The story could have kept the coming of age element with Elena as the lead, as it’s established that, while she is more put together then Per, she still has a lot of self-doubts and is worried that the other council members won’t take her seriously because of her youth. A story about someone who doesn’t feel worthy of their position, despite having earned it, sounds more interesting to me than a story about someone who feels out of their depth because they are a literal imposter.
Elena is also the one who has an established relationship with the other major character in this comic: Amelia. Elena and Amelia trained together and were originally rivals, but, after Elena took charge of and won that major battle against the rebellion, Amelia recognized her as a more capable leader and decided to serve as her second in command, giving up her own ambitions in the process. She goes on her own journey over the course of this comic as she deals with Elena’s death. Amelia comes to realize how much she’s changed from the arrogant person she was before and ultimately decides that she’s ready to be a leader now, stepping into the void left behind by Elena. Actually, as I write this, I’m starting to think that the story also would have worked better with Amelia as the lead. She could have been promoted in Elena’s place after her death and had to deal with feeling like she didn’t deserve the position. That also would have been great.
I know that, given that I’ve come up with two scenarios where she could have been written out of the story, it must sound like I don’t like Per as a character, but that really isn’t it. I like Per well enough, and even found her to be hilarious in a few places; I just think that the comic would have benefitted from a more streamlined plot, given its short length. Per has no compelling reason to be involved in any of the major action of the plot, she’s just thrust into the situation as a result of a convoluted series of circumstances that required her to keep pretending to be Elena. In a longer series, where we got to see more of Per struggling to maintain her cover, that setup could have been entertaining. Here, it feels like an unnecessary complication that takes time away from world building and character development.
A Sparrow’s Roar presents a fascinating world that feels fully realized, despite the fact that we only see a small piece of it in this story. Unfortunately, this tale of a girl thrust into her sister’s shoes winds up feeling rushed and like the full potential of the setting and characters has been wasted.
Final Score: 6 out of 10
For more information on this comic, visit Boom! Studio’s website: https://www.boom-studios.com/series/sparrows-roar/
What did you think about this comic? Do you agree that either Elena or Amelia should have been the main character, or do you think I’m completely out to lunch? Let me know in the comments!