Amulet: amazing, adventurous kids' graphic novels have everything to love

I am unquestionably late to the party on Amulet, Kazu Kibuishi's young adult graphic novel series that kicked off in 2008 and has so far been serialized in five fantastic books. That's OK: it's a big world and there's plenty to read in it, and getting to Amulet this late merely meant that I had five books to inhale in one long session, which is, frankly, an amazing experience.

Amulet tells the story of Emily, a young girl whose family moves to her great-grandfather's tumbledown mansion after her father's tragic death. Shortly after their arrival, Emily and her mother and younger brother Navin find themselves in a parallel dimension where Emily's destiny awaits. Emily is descended from a line of "Stonekeepers," who are charged with protecting the alien world from mysterious forces, aided by gemstones that give them mystical powers, but also threaten to destroy them.

The first five volumes of Amulet are something of a marvel.

They combine so many disparate elements that you'd swear it would all end up feeling like some kind of silly everything-but-the-kitchen-sink joke, but somehow, Kibuishi manages to give each element its due, so there's Star Wars-esque comedy droids; walking steampunk mecha houses, kaiju elves (who fight with walking steampunk houses!); aerial battles, anthropomorphic animals with swords; infinitely wise intelligent trees; brave zeppelin pilots; mystic secret societies; Ender's Game-style child pilots; and much more. But every single bit of it fits beautifully in an overall story that's mature without being too grown up for its kid audience.

I think a lot of it is down to the plot, which is a really keep-em-guessing affair. Even five volumes in, I'm still not sure who is trustworthy and who's secretly waiting to betray the heroes. On top of that, Kibuishi does some very nice things with the relationship of Emily and her brother to their mother -- sometimes they are rescuing their mother, sometimes they're reassuring her, sometimes they're being corrected, disciplined and led by her. I can't think of another child-adventure story where the presence of a parent is such a critical piece of how it moves along -- it's a wonderfully inventive change from the traditional kid-in-the-wilderness story, and somehow the presence of Emily's mother does not stop her from having her coming-of-age experiences.

Finally, there's the art, which is, well, genius. I loved Kibuishi's Explorer anthologies and had experienced his work there before, but that was just short stories. With multiple volumes to play with, Kibuishi isn't shy about letting the art speak for itself, with huge, double-page spreads, like the sky-eels and mecha/kaiju fight scenes above.

Five volumes may seem like a lot of reading to take on, but these ones flew past, and now I can't wait for volume six, which is apparently scheduled for next September.

The other thing I'm anticipating is my daughter getting just a little older: she turns six today, and she's still a bit too young for the series. I'm not worried about the complexity of the storyline, but I do think that some of the scenes might be too intense for her, especially the opening of volume one, which takes us through the trauma of a child watching as the car her father is trapped in falls over a cliff, killing him. As an adult, I found that scene hard to take, and I think I'll give it a year or two before I try it on the kid. You know the kids in your life best: judge accordingly, but don't err too far on the side of caution, as there is so very much here to love that it'd be a pity to needlessly deny a kid access to it all.

Amulet, vols 1-5