The title is ironic. Or maybe more than ironic: this is not the story of a golden age
, but there is a book in this fictional world called “The Golden Age.” So it is, perhaps, a story called “The Golden Age” that centers on another story called “The Golden Age.”
The back cover says The Golden Age, Book 1 takes place in the kingdom of Antrevers: the narrative never gets that specific. It is a medieval kingdom
, somewhere vaguely Western European. Given that the creators – co-writer Roxanne Moreil and writer/artist Cyril Pedrosa – are French – you could call it a fantasy version of France, and not be far wrong.
In the manner of fairy tales, there is no wider world: we don’t know what countries border Antrevers, and it doesn’t matter. This kingdom is the world of the story; everything will happen within it.
Antrevers has been getting poorer and life harder for a generation or so. Crops are not as fertile, life is not as easy. Again, trade and development are left unmentioned: this is a single kingdom in a static, medieval world. The nobles have been increasing taxes to maintain their position; the peasants have been complaining, and starting to rebel, in turn. Repression of those peasants has been ramping up, under Louys de Vaudemont, one of the most powerful nobles.
The old king has just died. If his name was thrown out, I didn’t catch it. He leaves an aged wife – also left unnamed, and her exact title after his death is vague, too – and two children. There’s a younger son, but his older sister, Tilda, is expected to inherent – this is not a world with a Salic Law, I suppose.
Tilda is our main viewpoint character: a bit headstrong, determined to use her authority and power to make life better for the entire kingdom, to reverse the downward slide of all of Antrevers. To that end, she has been talking about shaking up the power of the nobles – not eliminating that power, probably not even curtailing it that much, but putting some royal limits on what nobles had gotten used to doing unfettered. She is young and energetic and sure she is right. She will learn others are equally sure of their rightness
, believing entirely different things.
We enter this world like diving into a pool: Pedrosa’s first few pages are full-bleed, with bright colors, single images in an illustrative, almost impressionist style filling our vision. He mostly settles down to bordered panels after that, but breaks out the full-page art for major moments: this is a visually stunning book. He brings all of the fairy-tale energy and life of his earlier Three Shadows, combining it with the mastery of color and space he showed in Portugal .
Similarly, Moreil and Pedrosa introduce us to a group of peasants first: our story may be mostly among the powerful, but it’s about all the people of this kingdom. From there, the narrative makes its way to court and Tilda, as she meets faithful retainer Lord Tankred and the young swordsman Bertil, who may also have been a childhood playmate of hers. The three of them are soon traveling together, for reasons I don’t want to spoil, but you can guess at how the old nobles are reacting to Tilda’s impending coronation.
Tilda looks to gather allies: we’ve heard a lot about “the Peninsula,” and she heads there, to rendezvous with Lord Albaret, who she knows is loyal to her. They will find other places along the way, particularly a hidden community of women – something like a secular nunnery, or sanctuary – as the story circles around the ideas of governance, power, and noblesse oblige. Tilda has good intentions, but do revolting peasants want any Queen, even a fairly benevolent, forward-thinking one? And can Tilda conceptualize a government without someone like her ruling it by decree?
On top of all that, this is a fantasy story. There is some power that Tilda will find, at the end. She also has visions throughout: visions that make her weak, shattering her normal life and making her collapse, visions of war and fire and danger, in which she is an imposing, commanding figure.
This is Book 1. It ends on a cliffhanger, after more than two hundred pages. But the story, I’m told, ends in the second book, which is out now. I can’t tell you about that book yet – I need to find it now, myself – but I can tell you the first one is compelling and gorgeous and all-enveloping and amazing.