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More than Ink: Amulet Book Two: The Stonekeeper’s Curse

Amulet is a graphic novel series written and drawn by Kazu Kibuishi that is geared towards young adults. It is published by Scholastic’s Graphix imprint, the same imprint that is republishing Jeff Smith’s Bone series in color. I must admit to being surprised and delighted by the quality of the materials being released by Scholastic. I have often bemoaned the state of literature for young adults today. Many children’s fiction writers seem to be in it for the money, which results in slip-shod work that does not respect the reader, no matter what their age. My surprise and delight arises from the fact that Scholastic has been one of the greatest perpetrators of such drivel, and I had gotten to the point of expecting nothing better from them.

Kazu Kibuishi may ring a bell for some of my hardcore readers (I know you’re out there!). He is the editor and a regular contributor to the yearly comic anthology Flight, which I previously reviewed. I am a big fan of Kibuishi’s style. He makes masterful landscapes and his coloring is among the best I have seen. He creates rich vivid worlds that are easy to slip into. Amulet is no different. One of the highlights of the series so far is his use of two-page spreads for some of the more stunning landscapes.

Seeing as I am reviewing Amulet Book Two, I should probably catch you up. The series centers around a young girl named Emily and her family. Emily has a younger brother named Navin. Book One begins with a car crash. Emily, Navin and their mother escape the car, but watch helplessly as the car slides off of the edge of an icy cliff, carrying their father along with it. Let me note that this intro was excellent, and even had me tearing up a little. The rest of the book sets up the plot effectively, if not smoothly. In moving, Emily discovers an amulet among her great-grandfather’s possesions. This amulet transports Emily, Navin and their mother to a strange world. Here they find their great-grandfather on his deathbed, surrounded by his many robotic creations. Emily is informed that she is part of a chosen line of stonekeepers who are meant to wear the amulet and use its power to protect this world. With this comes a warning that the amulet, though powerful, has evil within it. If she uses it, she risks losing herself to its power.

Emily is uncertain at first, but when her mother is kidnapped by a tentacled monster, her decision seems to be made for her. Enter the enemy. The Elf King and his minions will stop at nothing to turn the stonkeeper to their side, and if she is unwilling, to kill her. This first book was well drawn and interesting, but it felt forced and cliche in its set up. It read like a guide to creating your own fantasy world for children’s literature. Endangered parent? Check. Empowered young protagonist (who happens to be “the chosen one”)? Check. Cute animal-like sidekicks? Check. Evil glowing-eyed bad guys? Check. Walking house? Well. You get the picture.

Luckily for the series, and for us, Book Two was a great improvement in pacing, action, character and plot. Perhaps not any more original than the first book, Book Two is certainly much more enjoyable. Emily is joined by an expert swordsfox (I can’t call him a swordsman if he isn’t a man, now can I?), who has the unfortunate name of Leon Redbeard. Overused heroic names aside, Leon is a welcome addition to the action. He is the sworn protector of the stonekeeper, and has been waiting for the prophesied one. In case you were wondering, the prophets were in fact big, old trees. I can’t fault Mr. Kabuishi too much on plot, because the art is excellent, and seldom have big, old, prophetic trees looked this cool. We learn that the Elf King was a stonekeeper who gave in to the power of the amulet, and was turned into a monster.

Emily continues to have Venom Suit-esque struggles with her evil amulet, but so far is able to overcome them by relying on the strength of her family and friends, rather than just the amulet’s power. Navin steps up and becomes more interesting as he finds his own ways to help out. The robotic helpers left by great-grandpa Silas remain fairly boring and obsolete, even the cute one made to look like a floppy pink rabbit.

Thus far I am reserving most judgement. After all, Bone took far longer than just the first two books to develop its plot, and I consider it to be one of my favorite fantasy books. As I said before, even when the book goes far into the wood of well-trodden fantasy plot elements, the flawless art more than makes up for it.

Amulet Book Two releases this Fall. It should be noted that because these books are graphic novels it could easily be up to two years between books. While Scholastic could churn out 20 Animorphs a year, work of this quality requires more patience. For those who are interested, but would rather read something more adult, I would once again recommend the Flight series, or Kibuishi’s superb steampunk tale, Daisy Cutter: The Last Train, which happens to be my favorite work by him.

Until next issue, proliferate the nerdverse.


7 comments for “More than Ink: Amulet Book Two: The Stonekeeper’s Curse”

  1. Thanks for the (p)review!

    I hope you don’t mind if I go on quite a tangent here (if you do, you can delete this comment), but I just wanted to point something out:

    “After all, Bone took far longer than just the first two books to develop its plot…”

    People tend to forget how much happened in the FIRST ISSUE, let alone the first book, of Bone. It’s pretty cool actually, to see just how much Jeff really knew what he was doing, despite the revisions that occurred naturally along the way. He knew the story he wanted to tell, and he told it masterfully. Basically EVERY major element (or clues for the same) are introduced in the first book. The plot was all there in the first few books, it’s just that the PACE of the early books was different. The reason for this is that Bone more or less follows dramatic structure: Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, Dénouement.

    In the first issue, we meet the three Bones and get a look at their personalities. Smiley finds the map that Thorn drew when she was a little girl. We find out that the Rat Creatures are looking for a Bone with a star on his chest. We’re introduced to the Great Red Dragon. We see the Locusts. That’s just the first issue.

    In the first book, we meet Thorn and she sees the map, we get more background to dragons and Rat Creatures, we meet Gran’ma Ben, Lucius and Kingdok, we have the first playback of Thorn’s dream sequence, and finally, to wrap up the list of major players, we meet the Hooded One, see the Hooded One gathered with Kingdok and the Rat Creatures, and we have a fantastic first book climax with the Rat Creature attack and a sense of further impending danger with the Hooded One hovering around Barrelhaven.

    What part of this is lacking in plot development?

    Whether Amulet is this type of story does remain to be seen. Will Amulet use the dramatic structure and fully take advantage of its setup thus far, the things you mention as clichés? I think it will. Kazu has said he has a contract for 5 books… but plans at least 10, and/or however many it takes for the story to be told. It’s obvious he has the story he wants to tell in mind. I think it’s appropriate to reserve most judgment, as you mention. It will be cool to look back when it’s all over, or at least further along, and see what pieces of the larger whole are in these first few books. I don’t think, at least from the first book, that it’ll be like Bone in the sense that Bone is an epic. I think it might play out a bit more like a serial adventure, though definitely with larger elements at play and as the impetus for the adventure. Then again, only Kazu knows what he has planned. I’m definitely along for the ride.

    Posted by Brandon Klassen | August 18, 2009, 9:53 pm
  2. Thanks for the awesome comment! It’s great to know there are people reading who actually have read the various things I reference, because it’s hard to tell who actually ends up here at times.
    I wholeheartedly agree with your comments on Bone. In fact, I would probably fault my writing here for being unclear, and slighting Bone of its brilliance. I would revise my comment by saying that the plot of Bone was present from the beginning, and began to develop early on. When reading the first several books of Bone, however, it would be impossible to really have foreseen what the work would become. That was something that had to develop slowly, over a series of many books, and was a better story for it. All I really wanted to say by the reference was that Amulet has similar seeds of plot that have been sewn early on in the series, and very well could develop in a similarly stunning and unexpected way. The question that remains is whether the story will progress and become something more, as Bone did, or whether these story elements will continue to be vaguely referenced and remain inert in the background.
    Part of the brilliance of Bone was that things that seemed as if they could have just been things to set the mood of the story early on almost always developed into major plot points later in the series. Take the Red Dragon for instance. In a lesser series, a character like the dragon may have remained a shadowy character with no backstory for the entire series, just to set the mood and serve as an occasional Deus Ex Machina. That isn’t what Smith did. He introduced him early as a shadowy character, but used these vague introductory elements later to develop a complete backstory and character with depth, who was completely consistent with his earliest appearances and who plays a big role in the story. As I said, I am reserving judgment, but I have never seen Kibuishi to be on the same level as a storyteller as Jeff Smith.
    I would also like to point out that the only reason we can look back and realize how much plot really is contained in the first book of Bone is because Smith followed through so well in using all of those elements in the story. Had he not, that groundwork would not have been plot, but you needed to get further into the series to realize that. That is the sense in which it took more than one book to develop, because it wasn’t until later books that the plot that had been set up really came to fruition.
    I am saying the same thing about the Amulet books. It may well be that in the next eight books the plot comes to such beautiful fruition that I greater realize the value of the first couple books, but at the same time, there is no way that I would consider the level or complexity of the groundwork to be on the same level as that in the first Bone book (which should not be a slight to Kazu, but rather a testament to the extreme brilliance of Bone).
    So far, however, I consider myself to be like you, along for the ride.
    Thanks a lot for the comment and your insight!

    Posted by Andrew Wright | August 19, 2009, 12:59 am
  3. I just have to say wow… the art for this does look amazing.

    Posted by Amanda | August 19, 2009, 12:51 pm

    Posted by ALYSSA | October 9, 2009, 8:06 pm

    Posted by ALYSSA | October 9, 2009, 8:07 pm
  6. This is pretty belated (I stumbled across this blog) but I just thought I’d say that I think most stories probably function like Bone, introducing enough characters, relationships, and plot points to hook the reader, and then stringing them along for a bit before getting down to the plot. Harry Potter does this, The Wheel of Time does this, etc. Star Wars. The Lord of the Rings. It’s just the traditional storytelling mode.

    Usually it’s those interim adventures that give us time to grow to like the characters before the story hits us with some drama. Movies, for example, will devote their first acts to setting up a problem and having us get to know the characters while this problem is set up.

    The brilliance of Bone was that it was a complex, labyrinthine story, but it never felt like one. The characters were all so likable, and they managed to have adventures that may have felt like episodes but were really clues to a bigger story unfolding. Also I think Jeff Smith has a real knack for balancing more traditional fantasy tropes with true creative inspiration (like cow races) that create a cool story.

    I’m just saying this because I read Bone growing up, and one thing that always got me about the series was how consistently creative and surprising I found it. Going back and rereading it as one volume, I realize how much of it is the traditional hero’s journey, how clearly Jeff had the story in his mind all along. I think it’s a great work.

    Sometimes we forget, after the fact when it has already been made, the sheer thrill of the discovery of a new work; the new world we are entering for a time being that doesn’t strike us as derivative, that captures our imagination. Bone is like that. I think there’s a lot to be said for those initial volumes of just being introduced to Jeff Smith’s “Bone”.

    That said, I’ve been wanting to check out Amulet for a while, although some of its wackier anime-esque elements turn me off a little. Not that I have anything against anime but it kind of looks like a Miyazaki movie run through the cute mill.

    Posted by Joe G | February 18, 2010, 12:55 pm

    Posted by joel | March 10, 2010, 3:07 pm

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