WarCry's Official Review
By John Funk
There's something just plain cool about swords.
Oh sure, they might not be quite as effective as, say, a shotgun, but that doesn't make them any less enthralling. The sword is a more elegant weapon of a dignified age - or whatever it was that Obi-Wan Kenobi used to say - and no other weapon has the history, variety, or has captured the human imagination quite like the blade. From the samurai katana and the Roman gladius to the Jedi lightsaber, the sword has a place in the public consciousness unlike any other.
Ben Boos would agree. Many gamers should be somewhat familiar with Boos' work, as he was one of the Blizzard North artists behind the legendary Diablo II and its expansion pack, Lord of Destruction. During development, Boos was responsible not just for sketching up concepts for the environments and characters, but for pieces of armor and weaponry as well. Though Boos is no longer working in the video game industry at the moment, he clearly hasn't lost his skill with a pen, as evidenced in his newly released 85-page book of illustrations, Swords: An Artist's Devotion.
"Devotion" is certainly an excellent choice of words. As Boos himself notes, the book is "the result of a lifelong interest in the sword." He further offers a disclaimer, avowing that he is "an enthusiast," rather than a historian. While Boos might not be an academic scholar on the subject, he makes up for it with pure, unbridled enthusiasm. Swords is, above all else, a true labor of love.
The book is divided into 14 chapters, each covering a different age or culture and the swords that came with it - from early Bronze Age warriors and Norse raiders, to European kings and knights, the Silla Knights of Korea, and the samurai of Japan. Every chapter has little tidbits and blurbs of knowledge about the culture and history behind the swords, and particular details about the weapons' construction and usage. The text is concise and, while informative, tends to be more common knowledge and clearly geared at a younger audience - Boos, again, makes no pretense at being a scholar instead of an enthusiast. That said, there's enough information there that most people are likely to learn something from it - I certainly did.
Of course, the selling point of Swords isn't the text, but the illustrations it accompanies. Ben Boos is a tremendously skilled artist, and has clearly poured incredible amounts of effort, time, and devotion into the artwork seen in Swords. Every page is filled with pictures of swords, armor, and the warriors who used them, and the attention to detail and accuracy is really just astounding.
There are also breathtaking full-page spreads between chapters done in full, vibrant color, and these are really the crown jewels that stand out even amongst the illustrations in the rest of the book. The book really feels like a love letter to all things sword-related, and anyone who spends time with it can easily see both Ben Boos' love for the blade and talent with the pen.
For gamers (or anyone else who agrees that swords are pretty freakin' awesome) who are finally beginning to grow older and start a family ... well, Swords is the sort of children's book I would have loved as a tyke, personally. For everyone else, if you like swords and the work of an incredibly skilled artist, Swords might just be worth an investment - or at least worth leafing through in a bookstore.
Ben Boos might not be doing art for games these days, but that doesn't mean he's stopped doing art for gamers ... or anyone else who thinks that swords are just pretty damn sweet.
For further reading, check out our exclusive interview with Ben!
SWORDS. Copyright © 2008 Ben Boos. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.