A year ago yesterday Compass South (Four Points, Book 1) (Margaret Ferguson Books, Farrar Straus Giroux) written by Hope Larson with illustrations by Rebecca Mock raced into the world. A three page prologue, the air laden with mystery, introduces us to Mr. Hodge, the red-headed twin babies left in his care and the necessity of keeping two heirlooms in their constant possession, a compass and a knife. Hester, the love of Hodge's life, we are told is now deceased. The children, a girl and a boy, will never know her.
Twelve years later the children believing their father, Hodge, is dead join a street crew, the Black Hook Gang. In a robbery gone bad, Alexander and Cleopatra Dodge find themselves seated in front of the head of the local police. To save themselves from prison they reveal the location of the gang hideout.
Although they are being sent from the city with a clean slate, they know their lives will be short if Luther, the leader of the gang, finds them. Waiting for the purchase of train tickets to New Orleans they see an ad in the newspaper. A father, a very wealthy father, is looking for his twin sons, his redheaded sons, last seen five years ago.
From New Orleans they have to get to San Francisco to collect the reward as well as be reunited with their "father." Their plans get turned inside out when they discover another set of twins with the same idea. To add to their predicament Luther is indeed looking for them but he is now working for an unscrupulous pirate who has to have the compass and the knife. These objects hold the key to untold treasures.
As events unfold, the two sets of twins find themselves separated but paired with each other. A tumultuous sea voyage and a jungle journey take them closer to known and unknown perils. Shipboard battles, sword fights, quick sand, wild animals, high winds, stormy seas and treacherous currents work against them but bigger surprises than they could have imagined await them as the conclusion draws closer.
To announce this first book there were numerous articles and interviews, Comics Alliance, Comics Alternative, School Library Journal, Drawn to Comics, and Book Riot. A blog tour described the process of creating this title. Two of the posts can be read at teacher Colby Sharp's blog, sharpread, and at Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read. To view interior panels please visit the publisher's website.
And now one year later...
The twelve-year-old twins, Alex and Cleo, return in further heart-pounding escapades as they crack the code hidden in the knife and compass in Knife's Edge Four Points, Book Two (Margaret Ferguson Books, Farrar Straus Giroux, June 27, 2017). Now aboard the ship Almira commanded by Captain Tarboro, a man with a near legendary life, they set sail for the Marshall Islands. They do so knowing the dreaded pirate Felix Worley, sailing El Caleuche, is trying to get to the riches before they do.
For the first time in their lives the twins are at odds in their goals; Alex wants the life of a sailor for himself on the Almira and Cleo is struggling to find a place for herself. Without the knowledge of anyone else, she convinces Captain Tarboro to give her sword fighting lessons. The tension heightens when the ship seeks harbor in Honolulu. Separated from Alex at the market Cleo uncovers more secrets increasing the questions about her and Alex and...Luther!
Trying to change his destiny he saves Cleo from a brawl in the tavern and escapes the pirate crew to sail with the twins. Of course this means a highly risky situation has turned decidedly deadly. Worley will kill him for desertion. Worley will pursue the Almira to the ends of the earth.
A high speed chase across the waves and the brutal outcome of an encounter with a reef alters the course for the twins, Luther, Captain Tarboro, his crew and the Almira. Evading pursuing sharks an island is reached but it, too, holds shocks. It seems death has not had its day.
Friends and enemies blend in a twist of fate. Is it a kidnapping or a secret pact? Betrayals abound on all sides. Page-turner can't begin to describe the minutes and hours leading to the first conclusion. The power of story discloses another ending.
When it comes to crafting an adventure, Hope Larson has a gift. Life in the 1860s moves from the pages into our presence so completely we are drawn into the world of the Hodge twins. There is never a pause in the action except when as smooth as silk she weaves the past into the present through stories. Told completely in dialogue we are captivated from beginning to end.
Certainly the settings and the events tied to them play a huge part in readers' enjoyment of this book (and the first title, too) but her characters are strong and true, whether they are friends or foes. They exhibit strengths and weaknesses. Love is a driving force, an undercurrent in several relationships. Here is a sample conversation between Cleo and Luther after he saves her.
Where am I?
Who are you?
Shh! You'll wake up the giant.
She's coming to. You don't look hurt---can you walk?
Who's there? I hear whispering.
I think so.
There you are!
Don't you dare! Don't you dare shut that door!
Open this door! Let me out!
LET ME OUT!
LET ME OUT!
You can't know how glad I am to see you.
Glad? One look at me and you ran off full chisel.
Had to get you away from Alex.
Did you also have to drop me through a hole in the floor?
You were in trouble.
Okay, I was. But I'm not sayin' thanks. Last time I saw you, you about got me killed.
The artwork on the matching dust jacket and book case suggests the adventure found on every page. You can sense the tension and excitement in the twins aboard the Almira. The image crosses the spine to continue on the back. There we see Captain Tarboro with a guest on the ship who I will not name in case you have not read the first title. The use of light and shadow by Rebecca Mock is stunning. The details on the ship are in keeping with the time period. The color on the opening and closing endpapers mirrors a pale blue sky.
On the title page the illustration of the compass upon the knife as seen on the jacket and case appears beneath the text. To the left of this is an old-style map of the voyage. Each of the eleven chapters begins with a small but significant framed picture.
Panel sizes alter and are grouped to enhance the pacing of the narrative. At times Mock will superimpose one element on another for emphasis. Speech bubbles, sound effects and wordless images flow seamlessly together. Color is used to great effect to elevate the time of day or mood of a scene. It's the exquisite detail in all the illustrations which will have readers pausing, adding to the pleasure of the story.
One of my many favorite illustrations is in the market on Honolulu. Cleo, who is struggling with the person she wants to become, is holding a bag of tea and smelling it. Memories of things said to her about her tea making skills spiral out from the central element. It's an emotional moment but also a prelude to a turning point in the story.
Knife's Edge Four Points, Book 2 written by Hope Larson with illustrations by Rebecca Mock is as thrilling as the companion title. You simply can't start it without finishing it in one sitting; reading it as quickly as possible. It is a period piece of a particular kind of adventure superbly done brimming with beginnings and endings. You will want multiple copies of both books on your professional shelves. And your personal bookshelf needs to have a copy of each, too.
To learn more about Rebecca Mock and her other work please follow the link attached to her name to access her website. She maintains a Tumblr account here. To view interior images please follow this link to the publisher's website. Hope Larson is interviewed for this title at School Library Journal. The Comics Alternative again chats with the collaborators, Hope Larson and Rebecca Mock.
To view the other posts in the Knife's Edge Blog Tour follow this link.