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Review: Amulet: The Stonekeepers

January 13, 2012

Kazu Kibuishi’s web series Copper (which also appeared in at least one book of Flight) was what first drew me to Amulet, his young adult graphic novel series about a girl who finds a magical macguffin and an alternate dimension accessed through her family’s ancestral home. I cared for entirely superficial reasons: namely, his artwork is gorgeous, and this is a book about a vaguely steampunk world. There’s ships, and I love ships.

As it is, Amulet, so far, shows a series that probably needed a writer. All the focus here is on sumptuous beauty in the art, on panel layouts, and on creating situations that would look fantastic in a graphic novel. There’s much less emphasis on telling a story anyone would care about, which is disappointing.

The book tells the story of Emily, a girl who endures tragedy and finds a magical amulet and a kingdom she can explore. The whole book reads like a prologue to a more exciting story, unfortunately. There’s a lot of setup, with Emily reaching a position where something interesting could happen in the future and with the roots of a lot of dramas being set up, but let me be frank: nothing happens in this book. This is act one to a much larger story.

It’s where a good writer would come in. In a series you can have your first book set up future books, but you also need to have a “done in one” conflict we can follow. The only one here is Emily being stalked by a creepy guy who has incredibly vague sinister intentions. These are not defined, and we don’t get a sense of why he exists except to justify some action scenes and push the plot forward. Her various friends have traits and personality quirks but nothing’s there to test or refine them: they just are. Emily’s brother has two traits: he mistrusts everything (because someone has to mistrust things) and he loves video games.

There are good threads set up here, though, and I’d love to see them through to the end. The problem is that, for a book I spent $11 on, I feel cheated. When you buy a book, you expect certain things: a story, for one. Amulet‘s first book didn’t fulfill that desire. It gave me a setup. It told me part of a joke, and now I’m left here, in the cold, waiting for the punchline. The punchline requires me to pay more money, and I feel cheated.

And I’d say that the moment a running series fails is when you get part of it and you feel cheated because it doesn’t tell you a story.

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