by Vanessa Di Gregorio
I love graphic novels; I always have. And I’ve been a long-time fan of Kazu Kibuishi (who is married to Amy Kim Ganter, whom I’ve also been a long-time fan of). So it made sense that I would one day pick up his middle grade graphic novel series, Amulet.
To be honest, I’m not sure why it took me so long to pick this up. The first time I saw the cover for Amulet Book 1: The Stonekeeper, I knew I wanted it . Actually, scratch that; the first time I heard about it, before it was published, I knew I wanted it. The only thing I really regret is waiting so long to pick this graphic novel up. You’ll be hooked after the first few pages, and Kibuishi’s art is absolutely lovely. The colours are vivid, the settings are breathtaking, and the creatures are wonderfully designed.
Though you can tell while reading that this graphic novel series is for children, chances are you’ll probably still enjoy it!
Here’s a description from Goodreads:
After a family tragedy, Emily, Navin, and their mother move to an old ancestral home to start a new life. On the family’s very first night in the mysterious house, a strange noise lures them into the basement, where Em and Navin’s mom is kidnapped by a humongous, tentacled creature and dragged down behind the basement door.
The kids give chase down a twisty spiral stairway and find themselves in a strange and magical world below. Most surprising of all, it seems that their great-grandfather, who was an inventor and puzzle maker, was there before them – and he’s left some unfinished business.
Now it’s up to Em and Navin to figure out how to set things right and save their mother’s life!
If you’ve ever read The Spiderwick series, you might find a few similarities; especially with the kids moving to an old, mysterious house that used to belong to an equally mysterious relative. And if you read a lot of fantasy like I do, then the story for Book 1 will be a bit familiar, playing on a lot of similar ideas and archetypes. But similarities aside, Amulet Book 1: The Stonekeeper, is a wonderful read. Though older readers will find the story a bit predictable, I could not put this graphic novel down; and after finishing, immediately picked up Book 2. The plot is fast-paced and builds up steadily, with multiple series of adventures Em and Navin are forced to overcome in order to save their mother. There is tons of action; and Kibuishi is amazing when it comes to action packed scenes.
Like all good fantasies, The Stonekeeper introduces you to a world that has been wonderfully imagined; and gorgeously visualized. I found myself taking in all the wonderful details in Kibuishi’s artwork: the colours set the tone, as do the settings; and not once was I bored of the artwork. And his world is such a wonderful combination: it is fantasy, and steampunk, and sci-fi, all wrapped up into one fantastically realized world. I mean, robots and elves and monsters and giant mechs? How can you go wrong?
Em and Navin are well-written (and well-drawn) characters. They are complex and strong, in their own ways. They aren’t perfect, which makes them wonderfully realistic. Em seems like any other young girl you might meet, albeit a girl who is a natural born leader. She doesn’t want to live in the new house, says things that can be hurtful, and often is a wonderful contradiction (without being all over the place). Though she is brave, she is also at times frightened. Navin, though young, is a quick learner who is immensely curious. He is often much more optimistic than his older sister, but you can see the chips in his armor every now and then. Being the first book in the series, I know that they will only continue to grow into even more complex and enjoyable characters; and I look forward to seeing it.
Kibuishi has also changed the way one thinks of elves. His elves are not your usual elves, who are extremely tall and thin, with long blonde hair and gorgeous features. They do not live in the woods. His elves are ugly, frightening creatures. They are bad tempered, oppressive, and industrial; nature is not their home. In fact, his elves are so wonderfully not what you’d imagine; and are far more complex than just being the “bad” guys. One elf in particular, Trellis, is one of my favourite antagonists; he is a character who grows as the series progresses. And you will find him to be an incredibly complex and haunting character.
If that doesn’t sound exciting enough, note the influences Kazu Kibuishi lists in his interview with The National Post for Amulet:
“One of my biggest goals in life was to create a great fantasy graphic novel series in the vein of Bone by Jeff Smith and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind by Hayao Miyazaki. It was one of those things I just wanted to do just to do it, like climbing a mountain. As I began writing the book, the focus began to shift more toward talking about family issues, like financial burdens and a person’s ties to their own ancestry. It was a place for me to discuss a lot of the stuff that was happening in my own family, and when I read it now, I can clearly see how close it is to my own life, minus the monsters and robots, of course…I’m influenced by so many films and filmmakers it would be hard to list them all! I can say, however, that Amulet was most inspired by films like E.T. and Star Wars, with dashes of Krystof Kieslowski’s Blue, John Carpenter films, the first two Alien films, and a whole lot of Hayao Miyazaki films.”
Amulet Book 1: The Stonekeeper is definitely a graphic novel I would recommend to anyone who enjoys reading comics, manga, or graphic novels. If you love MG and YA fiction and fantasy, then you’ll fall in love with the world Kibuishi has created, and the characters inhabiting it. It is a quick, fun, easy read that will leave you wanting more. And if you’re still not convinced, check out the prologue for Amulet Book 1: The Stonekeeper here!
Vanessa is a Sales Assistant at Kate Walker & Co., a book and gift sales agency located in Toronto. She is also enrolled in a publishing program. Currently, Vanessa is working on a YA fantasy novel and a Children’s non-fiction series.