But first, Randall Munroe continues to pop up on the radar, what with being the guest on last night’s Colbert Report and all. Also, did everybody see that Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes have teamed up to do a new :01 Books series to teach kids to code? Dang, Holmes, all that time I saw you at SDCC and then for drinks at my bar and you didn’t let even a hint of this out. Well done.
Right. Amulet Book Six. Kazu Kibuishi’s tale has, as they say, grown in the telling; originally slated to be a three book series, it was extended to five, and then ten volumes, meaning that what might have been a much briefer, tighter narrative has been given more room.
Rather than becoming overstuffed or padded, the story of Emily and Navin, and their struggles in the underground world to break an ancient power’s corrupting influence, have instead been given more room to breathe. Background characters get promoted to speaking roles, the backstory that only Kibuishi knew got to be featured on the page. The result is a story that is far more organic, a world that feels far more lived in than it would otherwise. Give Kibuishi as many books as he wants to tell his story, there will always be another corner of Alledia for him to explore.
So how does this volume, subtitled Escape From Lucien, stand on its own? Particularly given the lengthy delays associated with Kibuishi’s severe illness in 2012 and prolonged recovery in 2013? Unsurprisingly, the answer is pretty damn well.
By now the outline of the story — mystical force corrupts the guardians of the world, conquering army headed by suborned (not to mention dead) king must be opposed — and the characters are familiar to us. We aren’t getting this is what happened before and here’s who this person is any longer; it feels like all the major players are in place and moving towards their respective destinies. As a result, this is the first book in the Amulet series that really feels like it concentrates purely on story advancement via what’s happening right now — and that sense of right now is at it’s right nowiest, given that the bulk of the action takes place over maybe a day or two.
Furthermore, the scope of the story has expanded to the point that entire swaths of characters are half a continent away from the main events of this story, and it only feels natural. If you’re going to have a struggle that unites multiple countries of people together to remove the blight from all the lands, it doesn’t make sense that all the action and all the important personages will be in the same place at the same time. Most of them, though, are in the vicinity of the title city of Lucien, where one adversary will fall, another behind him will be revealed, and a onetime enemy stands revealed as perhaps the most crucial of several prophesied saviors.
While the impromptu Guardian Council of Stonekeepers try to determine who — or what — the voice behind the Stones is and how to stand against it, the non-supernatural characters are engaged in critical missions of tactical significance and trying to keep the unarmed away from the worst of the fight. Terrible things are massing, and as much as the Elf King’s armies are what prosecuted the war, it’s the things that exist in the interface between the seen world and the unseen that are the real enemy.
With three books left to go, it’s clear that the conflicts now in place are where we’re going to be spending the rest of Amulet; fittingly, this is the first book in the series that doesn’t start or end at a narrative resting point — it picks up immediately after the end of Book Five and ends with all the major characters in motion. Forces are converging, characters are in the middle of life-or-death situations, and we’re going to lose some of these people we care about before things are done. To protect as many as possible, the Chosen Ones are going to have to sacrifice between now and the ending — themselves or each other, maybe banishing the mystic powers from the world (both the malevolent and the protective), or perhaps merely shattering the evil into bits small enough, scattered enough to deal with by less extreme means.
As we’ve seen since the earliest volumes, there are bargains and choices that have been made, and these things have their costs. Sorrow awaits, because nothing worth fighting for is going to be earned cheaply. This theme has been there from the beginning¹, and if it’s heady stuff for a children’s series, it’s also a sign of the supreme respect that Kibuishi has for both his story and his readers; there will be no cheats to make everything turn out well for everybody we like while roundly defeating the villains.
That’s Disney, and as we’ve observed before, Kibuishi is a latter-day Miyazaki, in full Nausicaä or Mononoke or The Wind Rises mode. The world is fantastic, but the consequences of faltering are real — Emily knows that even the best possible outcome will be bittersweet and she chooses to fight on not because it’s her capital-D Destiny, but because if she doesn’t the price of her abstention is suffering on a grand scale.
Her choice is to do what’s necessary because it’s right, and that resolve is what inspires her brother as well her impromptu family to do the same. It’s more empowering than any Patronus, and yet far more fragile. The characters of Escape From Lucien barely have time to process more than their immediate situation, but we can absorb Kibuishi’s message at our leisure: Be as brave as possible, stick by your friends, protect as many as you can. It’s a message that we all need to hear, and it’s presented so naturally as to be inarguable. Give this book to everybody you know that needs to be reminded that things can be better in equal measure to what we choose to do.
Spam of the day:
From: Raina Telgemeier <hannu .firstname.lastname@example.org>
[link that no way I'm clicking on]
That’s new — using a name that frequently shows up in my writing² as the fake sender of crappy spam emails. How unfortunate for you, spammers, that I have a low and suspicious nature and highly doubt that Raina would be sending me links for off-brand who knows what³.
¹ As opposed to, say, the Harry Potter series, which started out as a much more light-hearted romp and didn’t really turn serious until the end of Goblet of Fire when the deaths of good guys start to happen in front of us. Kibuishi is likely second to none in his appreciation for JK Rowling’s work, but to my eye there’s a fundamental difference to how the hero appeals to readers: Harry is somebody we want to be because we know he’ll prevail; Emily is somebody we admire but her Chosen Oneness looks a lot less fun than Harry’s.
² Already anticipating the spam email I’ll get tomorrow from “Kazu”.
³ Footnote because I really don’t want her name to be near the words boner pills on account of that would cause some weird search results in the future.