Friday, September 02, 2005

NORTHWEST PASSAGE #1

Bottom line right at the top: Scott Chantler's historical action-drama is entertaining and mercifully steers clear of pedantry, politics, and PC preaching. Clearly and simply drawn, it's a near-perfect book for a younger teen reader.

This was cute, and I mean that in a positive way. Chantler's first big project is fantastic as far as debuts go. The narrative is clear, the story moves quickly and crisply, there is little abuse at the hands of the Exposition Fairy, and there's an actual plot made richer by historical detail of frontier Canada.

Charles Lord, reluctant governor of a trading colony, is eager to return to the adventuring of his younger days and looks upon his retirement and return to England as the first step in that direction. However, his plans to return to the Admiralty Office in London, procure funding and permission, and return to Canada to seek out the elusive Northwest Passage are quickly going awry. An old associate, a Cree shaman, shows up with both literal and spiritual harbingers of doom and Lord's old enemy is approaching... with Lord's nephew as an unwilling traveling partner. Meanwhile, Lord's sullen son is moping around the camp. It's no surprise that everyone went back to work the minute Lord left the party.

Chantler's art is simple and effective and very reminiscent of the hand-drawn animation of an old Disney movie. It's a style that probably skews more toward younger readers, but older ones will appreciate the little details that creep in.

What keeps me from adoring this book, as opposed to merely thinking it a successful debut, is that... for all the ways Chantler has invested the plot and characterizations with historical accuracy, there are no surprises, no complications, no grays in the black-and-white world. There are the good guys, the bad guys, the noble Indian, the innocent would-be adventurer, the conflicted son who must choose who he will become, the faithful sidekick who wants to retire and will probably get dragged back into things at cost of his life. It's all a bit too straightforward, which is why I think it's a better choice for a younger reader, someone who won't see as much coming and can simply enjoy the fast-paced adventure without knowing what's coming around the bend. Chantler hasn't quite mastered the dual-level storytelling that makes something appeal to both adults and children, the way a Shrek or an Owly can.

Oni Press rated the book, which is in digest format, T for 13-and-over. There are implications of violence and a reference to sex and if you take that one semi-oblique reference out, I think the book would work just as well and may get a broader acceptance from parents who are looking for reading material for their progeny.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

i miss your reviews...are you okay?

Sun Sep 11, 07:26:00 PM EDT  

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