City of Light, City of Dark

By J. Stephen Bolhafner
Published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Sunday, April 9, 1995

City of Light, City of Dark
A Comic-Book Novel
Story by Avi; art by Brian Floca

`CITY OF LIGHT, City of Dark" is supposed to be a children's book, for ages 9 and up or grades 4 and up, but I enjoyed it more than most of the so-called adult graphic novels I've read in the last few years.

It's a fantasy, set on the Island of the Kurbs. It seems that thousands of years ago, the Kurbs made a deal with the newly arrived humans who wanted to live on the island. They could lease the island, but the Kurbs would still own it. As a symbol of acknowledgement that the island belonged to the Kurbs, the Kurbs would hide their POWER, manifested in some object, on June 21. An appointed searcher would have six months to find it and return it to its proper place. If the POWER were not returned, the Kurbs will reclaim the island and freeze it for all time.

There's a map of part of the island on the title page. Most of us know the island as Manhattan.

The prologue setting up the above is done in a mixture of text and panels, but once the story actually begins it's all comics. I guess because the book is being marketed to children, it's being called a "comic-book novel" instead of a "graphic novel," but whatever you call it, it's a gripping narrative with characters you care about.

This book is proof, if any were needed, that one can present an adventure that is exciting and involving without resorting to explosions and vividly depicted mayhem. You may say that knowing it's a children's book means knowing that everything will turn out all right in the end, and the dangers presented are therefore not real. All I've got to say is, they felt real when I read them.

There are certain kinds of stories - and not just children's tales - of which we are fairly certain, almost from the outset, that we know the general outlines of the ending. But the pleasure in reading such stories lies not only in the details, but in the fact that, in the hands of a master storyteller, we forget that we think we know the ending, so that our heart thumps and our palms grow moist, and our breath catches - even though we know (or think we do) that it's all going to be OK. This is such a book. I highly recommend it.