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.