Sunday, April 20, 2008

Amulet - Book One The Stonekeeper

Amulet – Book One The Stonekeeper (Scholastic) - $9.99
Written and illustrated by Kazu Kibuishi

Synopsis: After a family tragedy, Emily, Navin, and their mother move to an ancestral home to start a new life. On the family’s very first night in the mysterious new house, Emily and Navin’s mother is kidnapped by a tentacled creature. Now it’s up to Emily and Navin to figure out how to set things right and save their mother’s life.
The book opens with an eleven page prologue covering the tragic event that forever changes the lives of Emily, Navin, and their mother Karen. This nicely sets the stage for the rest of the book as it transitions from tragedy to the family beginning a new life. Emily isn’t happy about the move. She doesn’t like the fact they are moving to a small town in the middle of nowhere. Financial difficulties have forced Karen’s hand unfortunately. The house is in need of a lot of work as it hasn’t been lived in for a while. It previously belonged to Karen’s grandfather, Silas Charnon, but he disappeared after the death of his wife. He was a puzzle maker, though as Karen comments, his puzzles looked more like toys or machines. While cleaning upstairs, Emily stumbles across Silas’ library and uncovers a hidden amulet. That evening Emily is awakened by a voice speaking to her from the amulet. She and her mother notice strange noises coming from somewhere in the house. They look for the source and determine it is coming from the basement. Karen descends into the basement and is attacked by a strange creature. Emily and Navin rush down the stairs when they hear her scream, but she is nowhere to be found. Emily notices a door however and they find a huge subterranean cavern on the other side. They eventually catch up to the creature that swallowed their mother, but then end up having to flee from it. The amulet again speaks to Emily and tells her where she needs to go to find help. They manage to escape the creature but are unaware someone is stalking them. They reach the destination given by the amulet and find a huge house sitting on a island of rock in the middle of a small lake. Before they can determine how they want to cross, someone approaches in a boat. When the individual notices them, they decide to run away, but find their path blocked by the dark character that has been stalking them. They are saved by the boatman, Miskit, who turns out to be not a man at all. Miskit takes them to the house where they find their great-grandfather Silas. He reveals some of the secrets of the amulet to Emily and places it in her final charge. Emily has the choice to accept the power of the amulet and Silas’ legacy or to turn away. With time running short to rescue her mother, Emily has to decide on a course of action. Accept the power and responsibility or find another way to save her mother.
This is an outstanding book that is perfectly suited for both children and adults. The art is quite excellent and is in full color. The story is engaging and highly entertaining. There are many great touches along the way. I particular enjoyed when they arrive at the house and Karen determines they can’t sleep in the house given its current condition so they have to attack it. Brandishing brooms as though they are weapons of war, the three line up in the entryway and then charge forth in unison. Then there is the scene where they are camped out with sleeping bags in one of the rooms upstairs. Emily starts to complain about the move again and when she comments about how her father would have approached things, Karen starts to break down. Emily realizes the mistake she has made and quickly apologizes. It turns into a nice family moment and also demonstrates some small amount of growth on Emily’s part. I really like Kazu’s character designs, as well as the overall look of this project. The characters have a very simple animated feel similar to a Hayao Miyazaki project, although there is a sort of a Don Bluth vibe to the book that I really can’t explain. Miskit and the other denizens of Silas’ hidden home are the charming sort of characters one would expect from a book aimed at a younger reading audience. The character stalking the children is particularly menacing in appearance. One thing that really impressed me with Kazu’s storytelling throughout the book is his use of the characters’ eyes as the primary communicator of what is actually happening to them. In fact, it might be possible to read the story without actually seeing all of the specifics of the surrounding action and still have a reasonably fair idea of what is going on just based on the strength of the characters’ expressions. I’m not certain how many books this series is supposed to run but I am definitely looking forward to the remainder of the story.
4 1/2 zombies (out of 5)

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