Sunday, August 12, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #224: Knife's Edge by Hope Larson and Rebecca Mock

It's a welcome surprise to see a story wrap up in two books. Oh, there are still single-volume stories, even in these fallen days. But anything that goes longer than that seems to stretch on forever, or at least to go much longer than anyone expected when it began.

Not here, though.

Knife's Edge is the second half of the historical adventure graphic novel that began in Compass South; the story began in the first book and conclusively ends here. Everything is wrapped up, all of the details mean something, and it ends the way Oscar Wilde said fiction should.

It may seem like faint praise to single out writer Hope Larson and artists Rebecca Mock for actually ending their story well the way they said it would, but it really isn't: endings are much harder than beginnings. And doing it in a thematically appropriate way -- this story is about a set of tween twins in 1859, and I won't spoil all of the doublings and dual roles in the series -- is even better.

We begin with a flashback, which may be confusing: I didn't realize it was a flashback at first. But then Cleo and Alex Dodge's father is shanghaied, and we all realize where we are. They were reunited with their father at the end of Compass South [1], and now they're learning the backstory: who their mysterious mother and father are, since Mr. Dodge is not actually their father by blood. (Though he's raised them since infancy.)

The twins are in possession of a compass and knife that, together, are the key to finding a lost pirate treasure, somewhere in the far South Pacific. And they are on a ship whose captain is willing to help search for that treasure, for a cut of it. But the pirates are not all safely dead with their treasures, and the antagonists from the first book come back with a faster ship and an eye for vengeance.

Before Knife's Edge is over, we'll have thrilling stern chases at sea, foot chases through a bustling town, sword training and fights, shipwrecks and betrayals, surprising allies and enemies, and a climactic visit to that treasure trove that will solve all of the plot complications in a moment.

We also have a very preliminary, tentative love story, though only for Cleo -- there are very few women on board ships in the mid-19th century, so Alex will have to wait until he's on the right shore.

It's all presented in mostly bright, colorful art by Mock, using chapter heads and pages with wide white margins for a classic adventure-story feel. The people are real and historically honest; Cleo pushes against what a woman's supposed to do in her time without being a superwoman, and she gets treated in complicated ways by the men around her -- because she's twelve on top of everything else.

Knife's Edge doesn't just end the story of Compass South; it ends that story well, which is more important. This series will mostly been seen in school and local libraries in the YA section, but it's worth seeking out for adults who like historical adventures -- it's not quite swashbuckling, because it's more realistic than that, but it does have excellent adventure and intrigue on the high seas.

[1] Not to give anything away, but there's a nicely matching similar scene, with somewhat different characters at the end of this book.

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