Every story, whether it’s being told orally, as a book, as a graphic novel, or in a kind of performance is allowed to reuse old tropes. Particularly when the story being told is appropriate for kids, there’s a talent in figuring out how to use familiar images and objects in new and exciting ways. It’s what distinguishes the good writing from the knock-offs. The storyline that involves a hero who finds a powerful object of some sort that could be good or could be bad is one pretty classic example. Everything from The Lord of the Rings to Harry Potter brings it up, and so when I saw that Amulet (Book One: Stonekeeper), a new graphic novel series by Kazu Kibuishi also worked the idea in, that was pretty cool. Sadly the book ultimately disappointed me in terms of its storytelling and original content. It’s not a bad graphic novel by any means, but if you’re looking for a title about kids on a quest, there are certainly others I would recommend instead.
Emily and Navin’s life has taken a turn for the better, or worse, depending on whom you talk to. Emily, for example, is not too thrilled that their mom has moved them into a new old house in some town called Norlen. Their mom, however, is determined to make the best of it. Ever since their father died in a car crash the kids have found money exceedingly tight and it’s time for a fresh start. That fresh start, however, is complicated when Emily finds a mysterious hidden amulet in her great-grandpa’s library and a big octopus-looking thing in the basement kidnaps her mom. Wait . . . what? It seems that things in this house are not what they seem, and before they know it Emily and Navin discover that they have a quest on their hands. Somebody wants their amulet. Someone else wants them to harness its power for good. Now with the help of a troop of small robots, these kids are ready to do whatever it takes to bring their family together once again.
A feeling of familiarity is usually noticed more by adult reviewers than by kid readers, but there’s no avoiding the sense of déjà vu in some scenes within this book. For example, Spiderwick fans will recognize the idea of kids moving into a creepy old mansion with their mother (a mansion that used to belong to an old male relative with odd otherworldly interests). Which is not to say that there aren’t new ideas as well. I don’t remember ever having seen a disgusting octopus-like creature that holds living prey in its belly in a book before. And a robot rabbit. . . it sounds familiar but not so much that I can identify the source. The plot itself is a small series of adventures, one by one, like different levels. The video game elements of such a tale do come naturally out of the storytelling, but they’re such static, predictable moments that it’s hard not to feel like the book is just an excuse for an Xbox game or upcoming action film.
I dunno, maybe I’m being too harsh on it. There are some pretty amusing moments, after all. For example, when Navin gets to fly a plane the view of the steering wheel is quite clearly Nintendo-inspired. That’s probably going to be a joke kids get more often than adults (which I appreciate). I liked the repeated images of hand clasping and then consciously letting go. The art is fine, though I think I liked the book a lot more when I read it in full-color (as hand-painted by Kibuishi’s wife Amy). Generally though this isn’t the strongest comic you’ll find on the market for kids today. Serviceable, but not extraordinary.
On shelves now.
Other Blog Reviews: The Book Pirate, 100 Scope Notes, Bookami, Oz and Ends, A Year of Reading, Geekdad (a Wired magazine blog), Book Spot, Thoughts on writing and other afflictions, The Orange Room, Bookslut, and Read About Comics.
In case you missed it, Will Smith’s kids are starring in the movie.