I finally picked up Kazu Kibuishi‘s third book in the Amulet series (see writeups of the first two here and here) this week, and want to talk about it. Be forewarned, though — I’m going to get into spoiler territory in a minute, so if you don’t want to know about what happens in The Cloud Searchers, this would be the time to jump down to the bottom, where there’s something unrelated you might be interested in.
I’m not sure which stage of the Campbellian Hero’s Journey it is where the search for wisdom and ability becomes a bit of a chore, but Emily and Navin are verging on it at the start of TCS. Their mother, returned to health by their efforts in the last book, is along for the ride as they seek to defeat evil and save the land, and moms just don’t always have the priorities that young saviors do. Observe two interactions between mother and son early in the book, on the topics of their new surroundings, and the task of finding transport to a powerful city that may be the only hope for their cause:
Mom: You have to remember we’re on an alien planet. There are all sorts of strange and dangerous things around us.
Navin: Yeah, isn’t it great?
Mom: Is this a bar? My children are not going into a bar.
Navin: It’s not a bar, Mom. It’s a drinking hole.
Seriously, if Odysseus or Coyote or Momotaro had mom along on their quests? Whole lot less exciting stories. That’s before Navin (previously revealed to be the commander of the Resistance army by prophecy) gets busted down to deckhand on an airship; for a young boy who’s spent the prior couple of days flying planes and driving mecha, you’d expect a lot of objection to be a natural reaction. But since getting mom back, since being faced with responsibilities he couldn’t have fathomed a week earlier, Navin just accepts it and proves himself, piloting an airship with spectacular results during a dangerous storm.
Emily is also feeling the need to grow up faster than she’d like; having accepted the role of the world’s protector in the previous book, she learns in rapid succession that the forces of evil have an interest in Earth as well; that her most vicious enemies may be valuable (if reluctant) allies; that using her Stone for defense is much more difficult than for attack (unsurprising — the Stone’s voice has always been one couched in terms of domination); and that there are other protectors in the world, but they’ve been sitting back from the conflict instead of involving themselves.
The remnants of the former guardians of the world have been secreted away in a floating city; they apparently have much better technology and magic than the folk suffering under occupation, and are deciding within their own population who will be in charge once things get sorted out. They aren’t seemingly doing much about getting those things sorted, though (surely to be revealed more in future books — it’s just supposition on my part for now), and for the moment give every impression of waiting for somebody else to clean up the mess so they can get back to their self-ordained role of Being in Charge. Max, a young Stonekeeper from this society lays it out for Emily:
The best of us will be left to govern Alledia. The Council believes that, like me, you have the potential to take a leadership role. Can you imagine what having that kind of power must feel like?
The sheer ordinariness of the smile that Max wore while uttering that last line was as terrifying as any of the expressions of brutality of the more obvious baddies; the Stones talk in terms of power and leading, and Emily’s worth to the world may largely come down to the fact that she doesn’t want the power. These distant would-be leaders may be ultimately as dangerous as the nominal Big Bad, the Elf King.
Ah, yes, the Elf King: prime instigator of the chaos, death, and destruction in the world. Or is he? In the review of the prior book, I wrote:
[W]e learn that years ago, four young stonekeepers gave into their stones and became monstrous creatures; one survived the defeat and imprisonment and attempts to free him from his stone’s influence, and he is now the Elf King that threatens all the world. This nameless, faceless king appears to wears a mask that resembles his stone, a total submission to its will, literally hiding behind it. On a later read, I began to believe that perhaps the stone has so incorporated itself into the king’s being that it has grown and merged with him, and now literally forms the face which the king presents to the world.
Half right on those assessments; the King is wearing a mask, but behind it he’s long since dead and his Stone has kept the corpse moving as a puppet. Rather than the King wearing the Stone as a mask, the Stone is wearing the King as a kind of cloak to hide its own independent existence. Brrr, creepy. The implacable evil armies that have thrown the world into oppression don’t know who (what?) it is that they’re following, and might abandon the fight if they knew. So it’s probably a good thing for the King that he’s got a deadly assassin on the payroll, one who kills minds and memories as much as bodies. Brrr, double creepy.
Perhaps because this volume falls in the middle of the overall story and doesn’t end on an immediate crisis (as with Book One) or achievement of a large goal (Book Two), it feels less like Emily and her family are making progress towards being done with all this struggle. One foot in front of the other, keep heading forwards, end game is still over there somewhere — like I said, adventures can become a chore.
Like all middle-of-the-story books, TCS isn’t quite as satisfying on its own as the previous books, but taken as the transition point to what the story is about to become? When the entire saga is over and done with, The Cloud Searchers could well be the pivotal turning point, the last moment of calm before it all blows up. Now we just have to find out what’s behind those clouds — silver lining, or more storm.
- Promised unrelated note: Girly wrapped up after more than 750 comics and 7.5 years. Congrats to Josh Lesnick on the adventure, and thanks for taking us along for the ride.