Thursday, June 21, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #172: Rickety Stitch and the Gelatinous Goo, Vol. 2: The Middle-Route Run by Ben Costa & James Parks

I don't really like kicking puppies. So I'll try to be kind to this book, which is very puppyish.

It's made for people much younger and more innocent than me, minds as yet unsullied by baser concerns or the day-to-day problems of an adult life. And I'm coming in on the second book in a series, so I missed all of the set-up and explanation that might have been in the first one. So I'm going to try to give it every possible benefit of the doubt and good feeling I have.

Rickety Stitch is a skeleton bard in a cod-medieval world, a guy who would prefer to sing songs and make people happy but feels compelled to go off on an epic quest try to figure out who he is and how he got there. The fact that he's a skeleton who can talk and act intelligently is anomalous in his world, and he doesn't seem to remember his own origins, or even however long ago they were.

His best friend is a blob of goo, who speaks in this world's Wookie-equivalent: Rickety can understand it perfectly, but no one else can, including us.

Their second adventure is Rickety Stitch and the Gelatinous Goo, Vol. 2: The Middle-Route Run. It's co-written by childhood best friends Ben Costa and James Parks, and drawn by Costa. (That is, they're still best friends but aren't children. Oh, you know what I mean.)

Our heroes live in a world is filled with lots of intelligent races, and it's not always clear whether different individuals are from different intelligent races or are just from different regions. There are people who look human, people who look like muppets, people who look like goblins of various sizes and skin colors, and several others. It's a nasty, dangerous world, but a middle-grade nasty, dangerous world -- good people are attacked but not killed, evil people obsess about money but not sex, and there can be a lot of fighting but not a drop of blood.

We are in a fallen age: there were once great empires ruled by the good and the wise, but now there are just small, scattered settlements and the only large-scale activity is run by some vaguely predatory mercantile companies. (As usual in stories for young people, if you're trying to make a living, you're evil, and if you're living on accumulated probably-aristocratic wealth, you're good.) Oh, and all of the good characters make supposedly humorous near-pun wordplay to show what nice people they are.

We begin with Rickety and the Goo ensnared by some kind of tree: possibly carnivorous, but they don't stay trapped long enough to find out. They are rescued by what turns out to be minions of a local hedge witch, who unfortunately wants Rickety for an experiment. She has already dismantled and destroyed several other ambulatory skeletons, but this time she's sure she can not just destroy Rickety but also accomplish her aims.

Since this is an ongoing series, she does not. But she is meant to be strangely sympathetic: yes, she's tormenting and dismantling sentient beings, but she's doing it to bring her beloved pet back from death, so surely we should forgive her? (Note: I did not.)

Rickety goes to investigate the "other ambulatory skeletons" the witch tells him about, once he's free and her plot foiled. Sadly, they don't talk, don't seem to have his level of intelligence, and are being used as cheap slave labor in a nearby mine by a low-level mercantile flunky who Rickety met in the first book. And so Rickety is dragged into mine-work, because people find it hard to say No in a middle-grade book, which leads to the main plot.

There is a great treasure in the mine, and it is discovered. And then it is stolen. And then Rickety and the Goo chase it. Eventually, they join a caravan heading north, guarding the treasure. Rickety wants to sneak into the strong-room of the giant central stagecoach of this caravan to see the treasure because he thinks it's from Epoli, one of those long-lost legendary empires which he also thinks is his point of origin.

Several other groups also want the treasure, leading to attacks on the caravan and some running multi-way fights. And a hired hero who Rickety was hero-worshipping turns out to be less than heroic, which is much sadder for a possibly immortal skeleton than it seems it should be.

Finally, we learn that the treasure is not actually valuable in the sense of being tradable for large numbers of highly-denominated exchange tokens (well, it might be, actually; this isn't clear). It's True Value is that it is a collection of legends from those ancient times, and if People Today would only learn those legends, it would instantly make them better people and just by knowing that people were once True and Strong and Honest, the world would stop being so lousy and the Dark Lord would be forced to pack up and haunt some other fantasy world. The things in the treasure chest do not seem to have any actual magic: they will accomplish this purely by being stories of people being nice and excellent to each other.

(So, basically, the treasure is the fantasy-world version of Bill Bennett's Book of Virtues.)

This is not the most satisfying of plot twists for anyone as old and cynical as I am, but it's fine for Rickety Stitch, and is a nicely positive message.

I would not hesitate to recommend this to anyone's minor child: it's entirely harmless and even appealing, in it's heart-on-its-sleeve way. The art is colorful and generally attractive, though I do still wonder if so many characters are supposed to look like muppets. The story is both amusing and adventurous, and the authors clearly really care about this material.

It may be somewhat less appealing to adults, but mileage will vary.

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