The premise of this book is exactly the kind of thing I adore--and the presence of Captain Nemo made it even more appealing. Unfortunately, the mediocThe premise of this book is exactly the kind of thing I adore--and the presence of Captain Nemo made it even more appealing. Unfortunately, the mediocre prose, plot, and characters lost my interest by midway through the book. There is a lot that's fun about the book, with its scholar heroes, witty dialogue, and entertaining use of myth and literature. Instead of adding familiar characters and classic stories to a creative plot that that says something new about them (such as Alan Moore and Jasper Fforde have done brilliantly), Owen simply heaps on cliches and accepts the morals of the old stories unquestionably. A scene where the villain explains their evil plot to the captured heroes turns a plot twist that might have worked well into a speech so cliched I lost all remaining interest in the plot. Writing fiction for children or young adults is no excuse for mediocre writing. As for the morals, it was disturbing to see that other races' frankly justified anger at only humans from a single bloodline being fit to rule their kingdom presented as sinister. While the 19th-century English main characters might see no problems with a monarchy designed to privilege one race, I expect authors in this day and age to acknowledge the problems. I'm not saying this was deliberate, nor that it obviously stands in for real-world problems--but it made me far less invested in the triumph of the main characters.
Continuing with real-world problems, I was disturbed to see that the main villain was one of only two characters of color--(view spoiler)[particularly since he turns out to be a white literary character (hide spoiler)]. It makes sense that the main characters would all be white, due to the premise, but throwing in an evil Asian seemingly only to make the villain more exotic and menacing is extremely disappointing. It's something that would occur in the literature Owen is drawing from--but using racist tropes without commenting on them in any way, just because they're classic, does not excuse them from being racist. Once again, I'm not suggesting Owen did this on purpose, or that he's racist, but these tropes simply made me uncomfortable. I do, however, have to commend him for actually making Captain Nemo Indian--it's rare to see the character show up without being turned white. (Sadly, this Nemo doesn't have the original's multifaceted, ambiguous character. He's awfully chummy with a bunch of Britons, for one.) Along these lines, the sole main female character disappointed me greatly. After being introduced as a capable captain and warrior, practically every scene she has involves her being shown up by a more capable man (or acting as a potential love interest). It would have been very nice to see the 19th-century men reacting to a woman who's allowed to do so much more than women can where they come from, but that would've put the focus on her instead of the men.
On a more positive note, Owen's illustrations are absolutely gorgeous and really enhance the story. I'm tempted to check out his graphic novels despite my issues with this book. ...more