Goodreads: The First Escape
Series: The DoppleGanger Chronicles #1
Fourteen-year-old twin sisters Saskia and Sadie Dopple live in Isambard Dustan’s School for Wayward Children where they amuse themselves by wreaking havoc upon their disagreeable teachers. One day, however, a woman comes to adopt Saskia, bringing her to live in a mysterious old house that hides an ancient treasure. Suddenly Saskia finds her life in jeopardy and it is up to Sadie and the twins’ friend Erik to escape the orphanage and save the day.
The First Escape was my first illustrated novel and so I know nothing about the conventions of these particular books, nor what elements would make an illustrated novel considered to be a stand-out. I assume, however, that one does not lightly choose to create an illustrated novel rather than a graphic novel or just a novel; something about the story must make both pictures and words seem integral to the telling. And yet I do not think that the somewhat uncommon format serves The First Escape particularly well.
As far as I can tell, the words were included because they could provide descriptions of people and some background information that would not translate well into dialogue, at least not without taking up a lot of space and creating a lot of expository conversations that might seem forced. The pictures were included for all the action scenes–a lot of fighting, chasing, and escapes were depicted. Sometimes it was like watching one of those action movies where you start to doze off a bit because stuff keeps exploding and you’re not really sure why and you’re not even sure what’s happening or that it even makes sense, but someone somewhere apparently thought it looked cool. In the end, it just seemed a little too utilitarian for me. The story does not feel like it needed to be told as an illustrated novel. Instead, it feels a little like a graphic novel with words added to save the bother of solving the problem of exposition. Or maybe it is a novel that does not want to address how to write good action scenes. Either way, it seems a little off.
The plot proved interesting enough to keep me going through the whole book, however. Sadie and Saskia seemed like they could be good fun (although, in reality, they were rather more mean than high-spirited), as did their friend Erik–a former thief turned honest and eager to try to make it big. Unfortunately, I did not get to know the characters as well as I had hoped. All the action and mysteries crammed into the book left little room for character development and all too often I felt as if someone were just throwing random plot elements at my head. Ghosts! Police! Crazy magicians! Batty old woman! Creepy puppet! Is it a ghost story? A mystery? A boarding school tale? Why choose when you can have it all?
And then the random religious elements crept in. I do not object to religious elements, but these made little sense and were, I regret to say, slightly heavy-handed. A woman named Madame Raphael appears to teach Saskia how to eat peas properly and it is clear she must be an angel. But why is she there? Apart from leading Saskia to a room, she seems to have done little in the way of making sure the day was saved. It just begs the question of whether an angel that one can see is really necessary for the plot. Saskia could have found her way to that room seemingly alone and it could have been clear that some sort of divine will was at work. I can only assume that the angel was made visible so that no one could mistake the religious significance, but I find it hard to believe that a supernatural being would stick around on earth just to teach etiquette.
The First Escape was a quick read and I am interested enough in the characters to try the second book. I hope that the writing and the illustrations will begin to mesh together more naturally and that the next plot will not seem so confused. I also hope we learn a little more about what Madame Raphael is really doing. Whether I continue after that book, however, remains in question.