Friday, June 17, 2011
For the next couple of weeks, I'll be featuring a book review every Friday morning. The books are pretty different from each other, but if you have eclectic tastes like I do, or if you're just curious what weird stuff I've been reading, stop back every week for Book Review Fridays!
At the end of this post I mentioned that my tween son and I were both looking forward to devouring the next installment of The Dopple Ganger Chronicles, The Great Mogul Diamond. Shortly after that, a review copy arrived in my mailbox! We were stoked! My son was so excited that I actually let him read it first, and that's saying something!
This series is visually one of the most strikingly original sets of novels to come out in some time. They combine traditional textual narrative (like in your Huckleberry Finn book) with graphic novel sections (like in your Batman comic books) to form a hybrid that is hard for either kids or adults to resist! The graphic novel sections don't interrupt or repeat the narrative sections; they actually carry the story forward, so if you skip a GN section (you won't, because they're great, but if you did) you would be missing part of the story. And the stories are of course terrific, but I'll get to that in a minute.
The Great Mogul Diamond is a little different than the previous two books. In the first two installments, The First Escape and The Secret of Indigo Moon, the setting is fairly static... within a short drive of Isambard Dunstan's School for Wayward Children. This story starts in that area, but quickly develops into a traveling mystery that takes Sadie, Saskia, Muzz Elliott, Erik Ganger, and Dorcas Potts on a trip from England all the way across France to Cannes in the French Riviera. The girls and Muzz travel by train; Dorcas and Eric follow by car. On the train ride, Muzz and the girls meet up with a friendly but mysterious man who seems to know an awful lot about them, and then they discover that someone is acting out scenes from the mystery novels Muzz has written in order to intimidate and frighten them. Dorcas and Eric, meanwhile, are chased, caught, imprisoned, helped to escape in a mysterious way, and finally meet back up with their friends in Cannes. I enjoyed the story maybe more than I enjoyed the other two, because the sense of travelogue seems to propel the story along in a way the more static settings in the other books do not. I enjoyed having Muzz Elliott back in this story, too; in Moon she is almost completely absent from the story.
The visuals are augmented, in this third book, by photographs, which lend a sense of realism to the story. Don't get me wrong: the illustrations in the first book are wonderful, and they certainly draw you into the story; those illustrations are present here as well. But scattered throughout the book are a dozen or two actual photographs, tweaked a bit to fit into the style of the rest of the artwork. I liked them a lot, although I did find it a bit jarring that the photograph of a "Restaurant" on a page opposite some narrative about the characters going to a "café" has a sign next to the door clearly showing that the name of the place is not the name in the story. That particular photograph does evoke a sense of going to a French café, and for that reason I love that it is there, but you would think that a half-hour with Photoshop could have reworked that picture so the café name in the story could have appeared on the sign. All nitpicking aside, though, the photos are a cool addition to this volume.
In the first two books, Sadie and Saskia have encounters with a mysterious figure known as Madame Raphael. The implication in the story is that she is an angel, although she won't directly admit it to them. In this book, Erik gets his chance to meet Madame Raphael, who helps him and Dorcas get out of a sticky situation mid-book. She also mentions someone else to Erik: The Man of Good-Bye Friday, who is mentioned to the twin sisters in the last chapter of Moon. Erik's "chance" meeting with this man, who is easily as mysterious as Madame Raphael, fills in some important blanks in Erik's knowledge of his past. He also appears on the very last page of the book, having a conversation with Madame Raphael, and the last sentence of the book actually brought tears to my eyes. (To avoid spoiling it for you, I won't tell you why... you'll know when you get there!)
My eleven-year-old son loved this book, as he has loved the other two. We actually never bought a copy of book one of the series (we checked it out from the library); when he finished this one, he asked me if we could buy and have a copy of it at home! I will certainly be making that purchase. I think it's fascinating to begin to see the patterns that author G. P. Taylor is weaving into the series: there is always a mystery to solve; the twin sisters always get temporarily separated somehow; there are always two plots happening at once, one involving Erik, with or without one of the sisters, and the other involving one or both of the girls; one character always has an encounter with the mysterious Madame Raphael and/or Man of Good-Bye Friday. The last chapter always contains a clue as to what the next story will be about. The villains keep popping up from previous books, too, and it's fun to continue to sketch out their history and find out what they've been up to since the last time we've seen them. Each book has a simplicity and straightforwardness to it, but the series as a whole is developing a more complicated mythology than any of the books on its own. Like any good book series, you don't have to read the first or second books to enjoy this one, but if you go back and read them and then read this one again, you'll understand things you didn't understand before. I think the simplicity of each story draws you in, but the multiple connections between the stories, and the larger spiritual story arc involving the two (so far) mysterious characters, are the hook that keeps you coming back for the next in the series.
The worst part about reading these books is that eventually, you come to the most recent book in the series, and then the wait for the next one seems to take forever! I wasn't able to find a projected publication date for the next in the series, but I did find an indication that there are at least three more books planned, which is great news! If your tweens love graphic novels but traditional novels not as much, pick up one of these books - any of the three would make a good entry point - and see what happens. But beware: you may wind up buying all three before you're done! They're that fun to read!
I was provided with a review copy of The Great Mogul Diamond by Tyndale House Publishers. The opinions expressed in this review are mine alone.