My thanks to NetGalley and Europe Comics for a review copy of this one.
This is the first volume of a graphic novel which tells the story of the prophet, Zarathustra or Zoroaster, the founder of Zoroastrianism or Mazdaism, or the religion of the Parsis as we in India might identify it more commonly. I know next to nothing about Zoroaster, and felt a graphic novel would be a great place to get an introduction to at least the legends surrounding him. The Lion that Carried the Flame is of course only the first part of the story. The story opens in the Karakum dessert, the land of the Bactrians and the Margians, where a young boy begs his father to tell him the story of the gods, including the one he ‘killed’. The father of course has to give in to the request and tells of the time when he, Amru, was a traveller who decided to set up as a trader in the merchant city of Gonur-Depe where he has bought a little shop—though he was not quite made (or destined) to be a merchant. But he finds things are not so easy in that city where merchant guilds are led by powerful women. Despite warnings from various quarters, Amru continues to try and do business, but is soon driven to debt, also attracting the enmity of a powerful woman merchant, Vivana. Amru however, also has a secret from his past, for among his belongings are a sword and a skull and we of course, don’t know what they signify, and who he really was before he came to Gonur-Depe.
In the meantime, alongside, a prince, Zahak, who has gone down the wrong path, praying to the evil forces of Angra Mainu is seeking something (once again, we don’t know what), which leads him to Gonur-Depe which he is bent on destroying, in fact, wiping out even from memory. Amru soon finds he has to contend with not only Vivana and her schemes but also the evil forces unleashed by Zahak who he alone seems to have the strength and resources to withstand. Thus starts his adventure, on which Amru must flee the city with an unexpected travelling companion. And out in the dessert, the terrain is not the only danger they face for other creatures not of this world also roam there!
This was an interesting telling of the story of Zarathustra, rather of the legends surrounding him which take one into the territory of myth, where civilisation flourished but where the gods (sometimes in fantastic forms) too still walked the earth alongside mortals. Of the characters, I didn’t know quite what to make of Amru with all the mystery surrounding him (though of course we know he is our ‘hero’), while Vivana herself is quite a handful—arrogant, but also very spirited. The story set out well the background to Amru’s adventures, preserving the element of mystery that surrounds his past (to which we get some small clues), and also of exactly what befell him when he ‘met’ a god, which intrigued me, and made me really want to read on. But like some (not all) of the graphic novels I’ve read from Europe Comics, being only part of the story, it doesn’t quite feel complete in itself, which leaves one feeling perhaps not entirely satisfied. However, this didn’t prevent me from wanting to read the next instalment to see how the story continues and what secrets are revealed. Three and a half stars.