Thursday, November 20, 2014

Middle-Grade/Teen Review: City of Light, City of Dark

As I’ve mentioned here before, I have been exploring graphic novels lately, delving into those in a wide variety of story types. So, I plucked City of Light, City of Dark by Avi and Brian Floca off my shelf, where it had been sitting for a long time. It’s a fantasy story set in the real-life world of New York City.

The book starts out with a fable-like backstory of mysterious beings called Kurbs, who are the owners of both the island of Manhattan and the power to control light and dark. As the story goes, humans are just renting the island from the Kurbs, and in order to maintain power and light, they must perform a ritual once a year, by noon on December 21, to discover a small subway token that holds the power that the Kurbs have hidden. Responsibility for this awesome task was given to a woman and has been passed down from mother to daughter for generations. Basically, all of this is something of a fable to explain why the light (i.e. length of days) continually decreases from June through December, until December 21 when it begins to grow again.

Every fable and fantasy has its bad guy, and here, that is Thor Underton, a neon sign artist whose creations grow ever bigger, requiring more and more power (yes, here, the quest for power is literal). Underton is desperate to find the Kurb’s source of power so that he can build the biggest neon light creation ever. He is aided by his meek assistant, Theodore Bitner. Having rescued Theo from the streets when he was young, Underton has a lot of control over Theo, who would do anything for his boss. Theo is sent to follow the young woman whom Underton believes to be the current one responsible for searching for the special token, but Theo falls in love with the beautiful Asterel and marries her.

From there, the story continues, with an epic battle between Underton and Asterel, with the power-hungry man trying to get the magic token. By mistake, a young boy named Carlos finds it, and ends up in the middle of this struggle, along with Theo’s daughter, Estella. It’s a classic good vs. evil fantasy tale, with Underton becoming more and more evil and developing special powers, and the reader rooting for the kids to keep away from him and save the day (literally).

It’s a good story, even though fantasy isn’t a favorite genre of mine. It’s creative, with interesting characters, and the black and white illustrations are expertly drawn by Brian Floca. My one quibble with the story was that Theo made some decisions to side with Underton, against the wife whom he loved, which didn’t seem realistic to me. I know – it’s fantasy not romance! But I still like my human characters to act in believable ways. Other than that one small complaint, it’s an action-packed, intriguing story that should be enjoyed by fantasy fans of all ages.

186 pages, Graphix (imprint of Scholastic)

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