In Dark Horse’s Sword Daughter, writer Brian Wood and artist Mack Chater tell the story of Dag and Elsbeth. A father and daughter travel across sprawling landscapes during the time of Vikings, a tale of survival, full of hardships, war, and revenge.

Writer Brian Wood, who delivered the frightening, post-apocalyptic The Massive from Dark Horse, brings Viking lore to life with grit and authenticity. Mack Chater’s art captures beautiful, unscathed landscapes with attention to detail, portraying the lead and supporting characters as elegant heroes, and when warranted, ferocious combatants. It’s a story made for fans of Conan, Red Sonja, Excalibur, or The Lord of the Rings.

Sword Daughter: Swords, Lots of Swords

Sword Daughter wasn’t a title that I intentionally sought out but I’m glad that I got my hands on it. Months ago, I had an appetite for comic books taking place in the Dark Ages and Middle Ages. I had watched Conan the Barbarian (1982) again—I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen it—and asked my local comic book shop owner to recommend titles that have what Conan’s narrator would call, “days of high adventure.” Arduous journeys on foot, on horseback. Rivalries. Revenge. Epic battles full of swords, lots of swords.

Savage conflict epitomized by the palace battle scene from writer & director John MiliusConan the Barbarian (1982), co-written by Oliver Stone and based on the characters originally created by Robert E. Howard.

To hunt for comic books on par with Conan, I could have navigated through titles myself but there are so many these days, by so many publishers. Asking for recommendations helps cut through the clutter. Without hesitation the comic shop owner said, “How about Sword Daughter?” I purchased number 1, went home and read it, returning the next week to grab every additional issue. I also had the title added to my pull list of comics set aside each week for me.

Characters and Connection

Wood & Chater have delivered a gripping, epic story with characters you become attached to. The challenges that Elsbeth must endure are traumatic, her father faces his own horrors, and their unique relationship keeps you invested. Communication, time spent together, and the love they show each other—or at times neglect to show—comes across beautifully thanks to Chater’s art. During their revenge quest, many battles take place without Dag and Elsbeth saying anything at all.

Focusing on the art, seeing and reading each image, you can feel the fight scenes accelerating as you look at one panel and move to the next. Decelerating to study Chater’s art and its nuances, where each weapon begins to move, eventually landing damage, you feel the battle happening in slow motion.

An Enduring Quest

Reading Sword Daughter, comparisons can be made to other stories that take place in the Dark Ages or Middle Ages, be it Conan or Red Sonja. The look and feel that Wood & Chater have created is also on par with Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2009 movie, Valhalla Rising starring Mads Mikkelsen as One Eye, who resembles Odin from Norse mythology. On another note—another continent, more specifically—Dark Horse marketed the series as “a visually stunning tribute to samurai cinema” and that essence is also present.

But for this reader, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road came to mind the first time I read Sword Daughter. Winning a 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Literature, McCarthy’s book is about a parent and child who make their way through a dusty wasteland, enduring brutal hardships, desperate and fighting for survival. In The Road, as in Sword Daughter, humanity may be lost, trust is hard to come by, lives may be lost, but the love between a parent and child endures.

Portions of this review were typed with Conan the Barbarian’s soundtrack by Basil Poledouris playing in the background.

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