Saskia and Sadie Dopple are a pair of trouble-making, rebellious 14-year-old identical twins, abandoned teenagers in the care of Isambard Dunstan’s School for Wayward Children. When Saskia is adopted by the wealthy and eccentric Muzz Elliot, Sadie finds herself on the run from the law as she searches for her sister, accompanied by Erik Morrissey – a teenaged caretaker at Isambard Dunstan’s.
The First Escape represents the first in a new series of illustra-novels from the pen of bestselling author G.P. Taylor. Illustra-novels straddle the divide between a traditional novel and a graphic novel, alternating pages of traditional text – text intertwined with graphics and standard comic pages. A team of artists and a talented adapter have tackled Taylor’s written work, the finished result an impeccable fusion of design, art, and story.
The main strength of the illustra-novel is creating a strong visual theme, and The First Escape oozes stylistic cohesion. The dark cover, orange spine, and carefully black edged interior pages lend an eerie impression to the title on first glance. While the maxim “Don’t judge a book by its cover” is oft touted, the opposite can be applied to this work.
While we find the story contents in line with the overall design features there is a striking difference between the cover art and the comic panels scattered throughout the novel. The cover illustration by Paul Green featuring a fluid depiction of Erik and Sadie differs immensely from the angular, blocky style found in the comic panels drawn by Daniel Boulton. Trench coats, voluminous trousers, black boots and the dim, nearly monochromatic palette contribute to a film noir flavour.
Not being partial to the geometrically inspired comics, I found the work on the mixed media pages more inspiring. Regular text intermixed with black and white illustrations, white text on black background, and large, hand-drawn words – pulled from the text and amplified — kept me reading to see which techniques would be incorporated on the following pages. The innovative design paired with a story replete with danger and mystery will keep readers moving along at a good clip. Reluctant readers will also find the alternation of text with comic panels an incentive to plow through the text in their efforts to reach the next set of illustrations.
The First Escape is published by Salt River, an imprint of Tyndale – the prominent Christian publishing house. While printed under a faith based imprint, and sold on the Christian retail circuit, any references to faith are glancing and inconclusive, though it is difficult to determine which path the story will take in future volumes.
In my opinion Taylor takes cultural relevance too far. Murder schemes, mad magicians, séances and a cast of creepy characters contribute to the eerie, otherworldly story that has more in common with Lemony Snicket than it does most Christian fiction for teenagers. Due to the edgy and questionable content matter some parents may decide to pass on this title for their children. However, with the marked popularity of A Series of Unfortunate Events, The Dopple Ganger Chronicles will likely find a wide readership. Based upon this first installment, our family will not be among them.