Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Amulet: The Cloud Searchers by Kazu Kibuishi

There's a long history of stories in which kids run off to have adventures, often in secondary fantasy worlds, but their parents have, up to now, been entirely absent from those adventures, for obvious reasons. (How can you benevolently rule the kingdom of the treetops and battle nightmare goblins if your mom keeps running after you, telling you to wipe your nose and wear your warm sweater?) Kazu Kibuishi, though, thinks he has a better idea, and Mom is a major character in this this "Amulet" book, not always for the best.

Mom was comatose for most of the first two books -- The Stonekeeper and The Stonekeeper's Curse -- which is a better metaphor for parents in a book mostly for young readers: something important that you have to drag around and keep safe, a burden as well as a valuable to be guarded. But she's awake and engaged from the beginning of The Cloud Searchers -- in fact, on the first page of our heroes' story, she opens with typical Momish worry and concern for her kids, Emily and Navin. Emily can brush that off pretty easily -- she's older, and, more importantly, has bonded with a magical stone around her neck that makes her the most powerful and important person in their little group -- but Navin gets utterly mothered in this book, managing only one minor moment of competence amid many cries of how dangerous everything is.

Kibuishi's cast has also expanded greatly by this point -- not only is there Emily and Navin and Mom, trying to save this world or get back to their own or both, and their friends (stuffed rabbit Miskit, robot Cogsley, fox warrior Leon), but also the disgraced elf prince Trellis (and his sidekick Luger), the evil elf king, assorted henchmen and cannon fodder, and random background folk. This book also introduces the Boba Fett-ish Gabilan the Assassin (no points for guessing what he's trying to do) and the overtly Miyazaki-ish airship captain Enzo (and his crew), giving Kibuishi a lot of balls to juggle at once.

And the plot of Amulet is still entirely quest-driven, as the growing cast moves from one mode of transportation to another, moving on from one location in search of another, where, just maybe, they'll find the secret wisdom to make everything better. This time around, they're looking for the fabled lost flying city of Cielis (further shades of Miyazaki!), where maybe Emily will be taught to use her magic stone well enough to threaten the rule of that evil elf king.

All of the scenes are still exciting and well-drawn, the characters charming and lovable, but Amulet is beginning to look like just a long string of such pretty beads on a string, stretching on and on, and that gets a bit wearying. Navin gets shortchanged in this volume, as Kibuishi shifts his focus to his new characters and to showing new depths in older ones -- and Emily isn't even quite as central as she began. He is in danger of losing track of his central story in the middle of all of his pretty baubles of worldbuilding.

But that may just be a function of the fact that The Cloud Searchers is a serious piece of middle; it's three books into the series, and I'd expect at least two more volumes (if not more, or many more) to finish off this story. The model may be Jeff Smith's Bone, but Bone was a carefully organized story, each individual twenty-some page issue slotting into a volume, which slotted into a group of three volumes, which then slotted into a trilogy of trilogies. Amulet, so far, is much more rambling -- it's structured like an epic fantasy quest, down to the map at the end, and I have to assume that we're not going to be done until Emily and her friends have tramped across every last named bit of ground on that map.

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