{book} Amulet series, 1-4

How many heroines in juvenile fiction have lost their mother early on? Now how many have brought their mothers along on their adventures? Thanking the daughter for lending me her copies of Amulet to re-read up to the latest: (book 4) The Last Council, we started listing all the things we love about the series. We both smiled over the mom being a mom while both her children have and continue to become the heroes. “I like the idea of the mom getting to stay,” to which Natalya replies with a pat on my arm and a humoring smile. I’m pretty sure she would have made me go home.I can’t believe I have not reviewed one Amulet book here, I’m pretty sure I go on and on about them, certainly about Kazu Kibuishi anyway. Well, here we go–an in general, spoiler-free (as I can get talking through bk 4) “review:”
 
I felt sure, at some point, I related the incredible opening to Amulet: The Stonekeeper where we are introduced to the tragic loss of the father that leaves its audience breathless. Fast forward two years and still mourning, Emily, her mother (Karen), and her younger brother Navin are moving into (maternal) Great-Grandfather Silas’ house. In the first days, Emily finds the amulet and the mother is eaten by a creature that then carries her off through a door and into another world. Emily and Navin follow, determined to save their mother.
 
The amulet, we’ll soon learn, is a stone she inherits from her Great-Grandfather, it speaks to Emily, advising her as to what to do. It also functions as a weapon. She inherits his robots and mobile home as well. And as the story continues, she has inherited so much more. In The Stonekeeper’s Curse (book 2), the rescue mission transforms into something more, and Emily can’t go home–not until something is done about the evil Elf King.
 
Little brother Navin is often underestimated, but he has skills as well as a prophecy of his own. His is the voice that challenges and questions, fleshing out Emily’s struggles to find her way. The amulet would take full control if Emily would let it and at times it would be so much easier. But there are reasons why she should resist and their revelation ups the tension even as it further develops the history and its characters. Further along, certainly by book 3 :The Cloud Searchers, you cannot deny that Kibuishi is crafting a finely turned adventure.
 
Between cliff-hanger endings that draw you into the next volume and perfect pacing, Kibuishi provides a brilliant balance of humor and peril and emotional conflict, of characterization and mystery. Who and what do Navin and Emily trust? And might there be times when they shouldn’t do as expected–or as someone in “authority” says? 
 
Kibuishi notes Star Wars and Hayao Miyazaki as inspirations. Learning this, I was not surprised–and not because the results are hokey. If anything, it is noticeable how hard Amulet avoids recalling Star Wars directly when talking about life-forces or harnessing skill and destiny, and resisting darkly lit temptations. As for Miyazaki: you know those gorgeous vistas? that is only the beginning. And yet, Amulet is undeniably its own creature.
Amulet progesses into greater complexity, and thrives in the unexpected turn. Most adventures should, if they want to be good, but Kibuishi is clever. I mentioned inspirations. In book 4 The Last Council we find a Utopia tainted. Ah yes, a dystopian novel published in 2011, shocking! And while N admits to anticipating a Hunger Games-like turn, she was pleasantly surprised to the contrary. I was fooled, too. There are a few reasons why, but primary is that Kibuishi has it in mind to do his own thing here. I have no idea how it will possibly go. True, he is consistent with characters, but what choices will they ultimately make in the face of what possible confrontation that awaits them. Also, he moves quickly through some plot-points and lingers in others. He introduces a character with information that changes everything (believably).
 
I am so very eager for the continuation of this series–and that is just the story.
The artwork. I mentioned beautifully rendered backdrops, this has as much to do with lighting and color and composition as the details. I just like to look at the pictures, honestly. The characters are accessible and expressive, another inspired take on Miyazaki, though unmistakably more Western. I love the palette. I adore the formatting, which is important to the visual expression of the atmosphere (setting). In The Cloud Searchers, we are introduced to dream sequences, black pages with fluid framed panels. There are the uniform sequences that become broken with skewed non-orthogonal frames in reflection of the change in circumstance.
 
I can register the composition of the page, of the sequence, or even a singular image, intellectually; however, I am registering it first on a more visceral level. Kibuishi understands his craft. And he minds his audience as well. The sequences are not hard to follow, frames are not indecipherable. Text and images take their turn in simultaneity.
 
Kibuishi is able to encode a great deal in a short amount of time, the pages turn and the action and humor draw the reader ever further. The story (via text/image) is intelligent, puzzling, and does not underestimate.
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recommendation: this comic series is fail-safe. It is beautiful and adventurous and funny. It is accessible for the younger set, but smart enough for the older. Even the more recalcitrant (toward comics) adult could be charmed. For those who love Fantasy, steampunk, Miyazaki, Star Wars, epic adventures ala Tolkien.
 
 
Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi
(Please read the “acknowledgements” for the collaborators he lists in each.)
Book 1: The Stonekeeper (Graphix, 2008) tradepaper, 192 pages.
Book 2: The Stonekeeper’s Curse (Graphix, 2009) tradepaper, 224 pages.
Book 3: The Cloud Searchers (Graphix, 2010) tradepaper, 208 pages.
Book 4: The Last Council (Graphix, 2011) tradepaper, 224 pages.
 
my review of Copper (Graphix, 2010) also by Kibuishi
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{images (& video): via Bolt City Productions(Kazu Kibuishi’s site. 1- from The Cloud Searchers; 2- covers 1-4; 3- from The Stonekeeper, p31; 4-The Fueling Station in The Cloud Searchers, p126-7; 5-partial of p8 from The Last Council)