The webcomic Black Rose is a tale of two nations. Ishtakar is a realm of the magic-using handwavers, while Athelica is a growing industrialized country, feeling the power of its guns and trains. But as tensions between the nations grow more violent, two siblings—a soldier and a high-class lady—find themselves caught in the middle.
Arion Nelkan has just finished an eight-year tour of duty with the Athelican Army, offering dubious "protection" to some Ishtakar villages while violently clearing others. But Arion has less interest in international politics than he has in claiming his pension and spiriting his sister, Aliyana, to a safer region. But upon returning to Athelica's capital city, Arion finds a few hitches in his plan—including that Aliyana has become quite comfortable among Athelica's elite during their years apart. But the siblings harbor a secret, one that threatens to put them at the center of the conflict between the two nations.
Black Rose is co-written by Christopher Arndt and Brandon Peat and illustrated by Aaron Minier, and it takes a thoughtful, grounded approach to its blend of military steampunk and fantasy. While Athelica's industrial revolution comes with complementary elements from 19th century England and America, many aspects of the world are drawn from other eras and cultures, most notably Ancient Rome. The small details of military life and plot devices taken straight from history lend the comic's world a rich and intelligently realized feel. The trio also takes advantage of the webcomic format by providing annotations for each page, often pointing out the historical and fictional influences behind the comic.
But the main driver is Arion, a gruff and suspicious ex-soldier, one who prefers exercises of pride over good manners, and would rather that he and his sister stand alone rather than rely on the goodwill of their powerful benefactor. But while Arion has fatal flaws aplenty, he's a smart fighter and is entirely devoted to his sister. Aliyana, for her part, may be pampered and soft-hearted, but she's no fool and no shrinking violet. Even after years apart, she's not afraid to point out her brother's blind spots but also recognizes when he has a solid plan. Their relationship is neither lovey-dovey, nor a constant barrage of bickering, but an affection forged between two people through a difficult history who know each other's warts well. Arion's love for Aliyana may very well be the best thing about him, and he knows it, and it's his drive to see her survive that makes Black Rose a compelling read.