Two ordinary children on a mission. A mechanical rabbit and a talking fox for companions. A giant robot and man-eating demons for enemies. The Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi isn’t my type of graphic novel, but you might like its outlandish adventures and lavish illustrations.
For those of you who follow my reviews, this next statement might seem like an oxymoron: My favorite part of the series is the artwork. How many times when talking about picture books and graphic novels have I avoided talking about the illustrations? How many times have I claimed artwork not only beyond my expertise but also my interest? In Alice in Wonderland, Alice might have asked her sister, “What is the use of a book without pictures or conversation?” Me, I’m completely fine with reading books that are devoid of pictures except of course on the cover. Yet here I am claiming that my favorite part of the Amulet series are its graphics. I especially appreciated the background and would love to see them translated to the big screen. Even the character drawings drew me in, with their bold and detailed appearances. The story would have to be terrible for me to not recommend this series, the artwork is so entrancing and rich.
But, here is the problem with my recommending a series based on the artwork. When a reviewer raves about the special effects in a movie, I immediately know that the effects are probably all it has going for it. Just as every American Idol viewer knew that the moment judge Paula Abdul complimented a singer on their looks, that was probably all the singer had going for them. The next words out of Abdul’s mouth were unlikely to be, “And I love your voice.” That said, it still could be that the movie would make for light entertainment. And the singer still might make a pleasant melody. It’s just in contrast to the story or the voice, looks is what wins. In the Amulet series, I’m sorry to say, that was also how I felt about its plot. Why? Because with the huge cast of characters, I never really connected to any of them—not even the heroine, Emily. Moreover, the story reminded me too much of Star Wars and (to a lesser extent) Lord of the Rings. Mind you, I enjoyed both of these creations, but not enough that I wish to see references in other fiction to a father with a mask, a robot sidekick, elf kings, an evil stone, or a ruling council. Except for the first, none of them feel taken from other sources. Combined though, Amulet starts to feel as if cobbled together. Last is the feeling I had while reading the books that these would make better movies than graphic novels.
What’s the deal then with my recommending the Amulet series? First, there are some fun characters such as the mechanical rabbit and talking fox. Second, if one reads enough of the books one eventually starts to feel a connection to some of the characters. I even enjoyed the story in book three, where events felt less random and enough small moments occurred to allow me to care about the fate of the heroes. Third, with each sequel, there seems to be more of an attempt to create an underlying substance. Characters are being forced to make sacrifices and recognize what is the true good. Last, one could strip the conversations, and I’d still find plenty to enjoy about the Amulet series because of the artwork.