Kazu Kibuishi is the author of the AMULET series, a set of young adult graphic novels published by Scholastic. Book One, The Stonekeeper, and Book Two, The Stonekeeper’s Curse, are fast, accessible stories with likeable characters who face difficult challenges.
In The Stonekeeper, Emily and Navin’s impoverished mother moves them away from everything they know after their father is killed in a car accident on an icy road. They move into a dilapidated house owned by Emily’s great-grandfather Silas Charnon, who mysteriously disappeared years ago. Silas was a puzzle-maker and a toymaker, and up in the attic Emily finds a strange amulet. Although she and Navin don’t know it, they are being watched by a sinister figure and his ethereal familiar. As soon as Emily hangs the amulet around her neck, she hears a voice speaking to her. That night, her mother goes to investigate sounds in the basement and is attacked by an arachnopod, a spider/squidlike monster. Navin and Emily fight the monster and Emily discovers that the amulet is a source of power that can be used as a weapon. They drive off the beast but not before it captures their mother.
Escaping the arachnopod, Emily and Navin discover an alternate world and a strange house peopled by clockwork beings that were created by Silas. Silas is alive, barely, cared for by his creations, and he explains to Emily that she is now the Stonekeeper, and must fight to free this world, Allendia, from the rule of the evil elf king. He tries to warn her about the power of the amulet, too, but dies before he can explain.
Emily is determined not to lose another parent, so she and her companions go after the arachnopod. They must battle not only the dreaded rakers and the arachnopod itself, but the enigmatic elf prince who is following them (the watcher from the house), and who wants Emily to join him in a scheme to kill his father. The action in the last third of the book is non-stop and Kibuishi creates an exciting, chaotic visual effect on the pages. It really does feel as if creatures are coming at you from every direction. Each gesture has its own sound effect, which I found distracting (this got far worse in the second book) but I think younger readers will enjoy this choice. Emily also struggles against the tempting voice of the amulet, which offers her unlimited power.
At the end of book one their mother is rescued, but suffering the effects of arachnopod poison. In The Stonekeeper’s Curse, their ambulatory house takes them to the city of Kanalis where a doctor may know of a cure. Meanwhile, Trellis, the elf prince, has an unpleasant confrontation with the elf king and is sent to the city to destroy Emily and her friends. The city of Kanalis is occupied by the elves, and the citizens are under a slow curse and are gradually turning into animals. Emily and Navin meet a fox named Leon, a warrior who offers to help them and leads Emily on a quest to Demon Head Mountain, where the fruit that will save her mother grows. He knows a great deal about the lore of the stones, and tells Emily that she has an obligation to help the people of Allendia win their freedom from the elf king. Emily just wants to save her mother, and these two motives provide conflict throughout the book.
The elves are vicious and make convincing enemies, more so when Emily learns the genesis of the elf king and his power. Trellis is conflicted, which makes him a dramatic character to watch. The hero of the book is plainly Emily, but Navin is given tasks that test his newfound skills and talents. In The Stonekeeper’s Curse, the amulet itself works harder to control Emily, telling her that she should leave her family behind since they are slowing her down. Insidiously, it tempts her using altruism rather than selfishness, saying that they’ll get killed if they continue to follow her. She doesn’t want that, does she? Better just to leave them behind. Emily has to make choices about the kinds of power she will wield, and this adds to an otherwise simple story’s suspense.
Kibuishi’s artwork looks simple and faces are drawn in a manga-like way, but he manages to convey emotion in a single line of a mouth or the shape of the eyes. Certain sections, perhaps even characters, seem to have color themes. In The Stonekeeper’s Curse, Trellis’s confrontation with his father is all done in browns, golds and beiges, creating a sense of a harsh desert in contrast to the wooded gray-green mountains we saw in the first book. As Emily and Leon journey toward the trees they spend several pages in shades of misty gray and blue tones, signifying both physical fog and Emily’s internal confusion. Navin follows the citizens of Kanalis into a series of underground tunnels where a trolley makes a pop of color, green and rust, against a dark gray background. Kibuishi uses the gutters, the spaces between each frame on a page, to evoke excitement, action or a sense of chaos.
There are nice little jokes along the way, like when the doctor in Kanalis tells a man who is turning into a slug to be sure to avoid salt.
The second book begins to delve into Emily’s moral dilemma more deeply. In a couple of spots, I found the plot confusing. If you want to know why, highlight this spoiler: Emily is searching for the fruit of the gadoba tree, but there is a tree growing in Silas’s house, and it looks like the same kind of tree. [SPOILER ENDS]. In some places, like with the talking godoba trees or Silas’s clockwork minions, aspects of this book will seem very familiar from other books and stories. Still, Emily and Navin are smart, brave kids who learn things and apply what they learn, and I think these would be a an enjoyable read for middle-schoolers up to age fourteen or so; so buy them for your kids, and then check them out yourself.