February 14, 2008


Miki Falls 4: Winter. By Mark Crilley. HarperTeen. $7.99.

Warriors: Power of Three—Book Two: Dark River. By Erin Hunter. HarperCollins. $16.99.

      One series end and one series continuation – both sequences are somewhat uneven, but both have many points of drama and excitement that should appeal to preteen and young teenage readers. Miki Falls: Winter concludes Mark Crilley’s manga-influenced four-seasonal-book love story whose underlying absurd premise (there exist quasi-celestial beings who manage and nurture the finite amount of human love in the world) has steadily become less important as the tale has seemed more and more a Romeo-and-Juliet story of the love between Miki and Hiro. The supernatural elements return strongly in Winter, after being largely absent in Autumn, and indeed they are necessary to bring the work to a satisfactory conclusion – and a happy one (this is no Romeo-and-Juliet tragedy). What is really interesting in considering all four books is how much Crilley, who has never before done a love story and whose work (such as the Akiko books) is usually aimed at younger readers than is Miki Falls, has himself grown as a storyteller and artist while creating the series. Crilley himself is aware of at least some of this – he explains in an appendix to Winter about the many things that changed as he worked on the books. Readers are likely to notice a burgeoning attention to detail in the art as the series progresses, and an increasing sense that Miki and Hiro are real people with real problems (despite the supernatural overlay of the story). In fact, Miki and Hiro have developed so much solidity that when some characters from early in the story are reintroduced in Winter, they seem rather flat and one-dimensional. Not so the art here, which practically bursts off the page as Crilley shows himself impatient with anything approximating the panel-by-panel progress of comic books and many graphic novels. Nearly the only rectangular panels are the full-page ones – everything else is cut and chopped and angled so as to emphasize aspects of the story and close in cinematically, when appropriate, on characters’ actions and expressions. The overall Miki Falls series deserves a (+++) rating, being a bit choppy early on and somewhat inconsistent – but Winter is a (++++) book…and of course makes sense only in the context of the three parts that have come before.

      Speaking of parts: Erin Hunter’s Warriors saga seems to have an unlimited number of them. Indeed, there are now multiple Warriors sagas, which explore different aspects of the lives of the cat clans that Hunter uses as stand-ins for noble human warriors in fantasy epics. The cats’ interlocking stories can be confusing and difficult to follow, and their grandiosity sometimes gets out of hand now that Hunter has so well established her franchise; but even if Dark River, the second book in the new Warriors: Power of Three series, is a (+++) novel, it will be devoured eagerly by established fans of the cats’ tales. It will not, however, mean much to anyone who might come for the first time to the Warriors world, since the backstory here is complex – and Hunter gives little time to it as she rushes ahead with the new tale. Power of Three refers to three young cats who, according to a prophecy, hold the future fate of the clans in their hands…err, paws. Dark River follows the maturation and development of powers of the three: Hollypaw, who learns about the warrior code as she tries to prevent a battle among ThunderClan, RiverClan and WindClan; Jaypaw, who – as the medicine-cat apprentice – has strange powers that are just coming out, and who learns a secret that could raise ThunderClan at the expense of the other clans; and Lionpaw, a warrior-in-training with outstanding strength and energy, but perhaps not wisdom, at least when it comes to romance. Hunter’s usual themes of friendship, power and betrayal are present throughout, and existing fans of the Warriors stories will certainly enjoy this latest variation on the theme – although the book is unlikely to pull new readers into these tales.

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