Not Exactly Roanoke Island

My initial reaction to The Lost Colony by Grady Klein was a bit of a mess. Not that the book is a bit of a mess, but I wasn't sure what I thought of it overall, or even about some of the parts. Which may be part of the intention here. It's the story of a secret island presumably in the United States sometime in the mid-1800's. The island is essentially a world (or at least a country) unto itself, cutoff from the mainland except for a single ferry. The world itself is incredibly well realized with a large cast of fairly rounded characters and a unique visual style. It was interesting to watch the trailer on First Second's site because I definitely got the sense while reading the book that it was initially conceived as a cartoon (Klein's history in animation making that an even stronger possibility), though not necessarily one primarily for children.

The biggest difficulty I had with the book itself was the lack of a compelling protagonist. Nearly all of the characters were interesting (particularly Birdy, Dr. Wong and Louis John) and I found myself curious about their backstories, but there was very little exploration of those histories. Yet, while several stood out as compelling characters, it wasn't until the second half of the book that I truly started to pull for any of the characters (always a danger with this large an ensemble). Knowing that there are future volumes planned, however, I'm willing to give this book the benefit of the doubt as the introduction to this world.

The story itself centers around the arrival of a slave trader and the resulting impact on an island that seems to have abolished slavery (though racial tensions still run high). While the themes of the book are serious ones, the tone and touch that Klein brings to it are incredibly light and I often found myself wondering just how I was supposed to react to a scene or situation. By the end I began to feel that Klein was simply trying to create that feeling of unease rather than convey a specific point of view.

The art was occasionally confusing, primarily when Klein would offer a quick flashback (usually a single panel or two) to take us into the character's head. There wasn't much to differentiate between the past and present in those panels, but I eventually came to expect them and they do inform the story as it progresses. Overall the art and characters were definitely interesting enough to get me back for the next book but hopefully we'll learn a bit more of the history of the "Lost Colony" and be greeted with a more compelling story.



Post a Comment

<< Home