The First Escape (Dopple Ganger Chronicles) by G P Taylor

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The First Escape (Dopple Ganger Chronicles) by G P Taylor

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Stefan Bachmann
Reviewed by Stefan Bachmann
Summary: Fun, fast, and twisty, if just a little ridiculous. Thanks to its part prose, part graphic novel format, it's also perfect for reluctant readers.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: September 2008
Publisher: Authentic Media
ISBN: 978-1414319476

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All is not well in Isembard Dunstan's School for Wayward Children, and it's Saskia and Sadie's fault. The mischievous twins are up to their pranks again, burning things, breaking things, initiating food-fights, and throwing eggs at the resident dog. It shouldn't come as a surprise to them then that the Headmistress is eager to be rid of them. It does, however, and they both are suitably shocked when one is adopted by a sinister wealthy woman and the other is not.

While Sadie plots a way to reunite with her sister, Saskia is busy settling into the sinister wealthy woman's hokey Gothic mansion, and it isn't long before she finds that all is not well there either. There's a shadowy portrait that must never be uncovered, an incessantly ringing telephone that must never be answered, and what is the danger the creepy puppet is trying to warn her about?

As far as sheer entertainment value goes, Doppleganger is pretty much unbeatable. There are action and thrills, there's a bit of horror, as is the fashion right now in children's books. The writing is instantly engaging, the plot fast and chock-full of twists. And if all that wasn't enough, it also has the perk of being a mixed-media book. This basically means that for every few pages of writing there are a few pages of a graphic novel. Everything is then interspersed with double-page spreads printed with only a word or two, to heighten the drama of pivotal moments. And the result? A great-looking book, where the pages just race by.

Another result is that there's zero subtlety. Everything is a bit overblown, a bit ridiculous. The main characters are still fun and likeable in their one-dimensionality, but the villains are pure cheese. One of them even replaces all his 'r's with 'w's. (Exemplia gratia, Sadie Dwopple is a slippery fish... one that should be caught and have her entrails fed to the seagulls.) Right. But I'm not taking any stars off because of it. For one, Doppleganger is written for nine-year-olds, and most nine-year-olds couldn't care less about nuance. For another, the book doesn't take itself all that seriously. So I won't either. In the end, it's just funny and silly and entertaining, and that's really all it needs to be.

I think it might also be perfect for the reluctant reader. My little brother is one such character, and I'm pretty sure he's like most other such characters in that he would rather watch a movie or read a comic than sit down with a book. So what could possibly be better to promote healthy reading habits than a book that's half graphic-novel, and whose writing is practically a movie script anyway? Um... For argument's sake, let's say nothing. At any rate, I'm going to lend it to said little brother, and I'm practically certain he'll devour it.

I didn't like the style of the graphic novel part that much. I said the book looked great and it really, really does: the layout is terrific - the pages are glossy, framed in black with shivery sketches in the margins – but the actual art... I just thought it was too simple, and faintly cubist minimalism really isn't my thing. The colouring was odd as well, with a palette consisting almost entirely of soupy greys and greens. The environments are kept as cold and bare as possible. For reasons unfathomable to me, all the characters wear some sort of dorky knee-length bell-bottoms.

It's all very functional I suppose, but not much more. Definitely nothing I would go back to over and over again just to admire the artwork like with some other graphic novels.

Oh, and anyone who dropped G P Taylor because of his tendency to jam-pack plots full of every character, monster, and clever flight of fancy that enters his mind needn't worry about that with Doppelganger. There are still one or two completely unnecessary elements, but the book is so short it doesn't even get the chance to become as convoluted as some of his lengthier works.

As for the ending, it's satisfying, while still leaving some intriguing tid-bits unexplored for the follow-up. I'm already looking forward to it.

Thanks, Tyndale, for sending Bookbag a copy!

Further reading suggestion: Some of my friends are currently all about a mixed-media book called Malice by Chris Wooding. I haven't read it, but they say it's great and so does Bookbag, so you might want to check it out. For readers who enjoy something more substantial, G. P. Taylor has also written Muriah Mundi and it's thrillingly over-stuffed sequel, The Ghost Diamonds.

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