Julius Chaucer, assistant to historical researcher Sir Alfred Catesby-Grey, is getting restless. He’s worried about their dwindling finances and he’s ready to do something a little more exciting than digging through moldering books (even if he does get attacked by the occasional thug). Unfortunately, he loses his temper with a particularly nasty reporter, Mr. Pickle, and gets himself and Sir Alfred into serious trouble. Events pile up fast and soon Julius and the famous film star Lily Lawrence are setting out to discover if the rainbow orchid is just a legend or really exists.
This is no mere botanical expedition. Finding the orchid will save Lord Reginald Lawrence, Lily’s father, who made an unwise bet with the mysterious and dangerous Urkaz Grope. Before Julius, Lily, and Lily’s agent Nathaniel Crumpole can leave for the hidden valley in India where the orchid is rumored to exist, they have a few problems to deal with. Interference from the powerful Mr. Grope, including attacks by thugs and his beautiful and deadly assistant Evelyn Crow, nosy reporters like Mr. Pickle, and even Sir Alfred himself, who is worried about Julius departing on what seems to be a dangerous wild goose chase.
The art is meticulous and finely detailed, and will quickly bring to mind classic European comics, such as Tintin, with the attention to historical detail, backgrounds, and character. The coloring and lines are sharp and crisp and the panels are laid out well, moving the action and exposition smoothly without a break. The endpapers include posters, articles, and photographs, all drawn to look as though they are real artifacts from the story, as well as a gallery of characters.
Much of this first story sets the stage for further adventures. There are hints about Julius’ past exploits, mysterious references to Mr. Grope’s hidden agenda, and exchanges as the various characters get to know each other. The publisher’s copy says this is “an ambitious blend of classic storytelling and cinematic artwork” and I would heartily agree. As a big fan of classic British mystery and adventure stories, one of the things I really enjoyed was how Ewing kept many of the conventions while updating the storylines. Although most of the characters are male, female characters are pictured throughout the background and are strong protagonists, both good and evil. Lily Lawrence and Evelyn Crow are both given much more depth of character than just the glamorous love interest and seductive adventuress, and I’m eagerly awaiting the sequels to see how their characters grow. There are even a couple minor characters of color – a photographer and one of the thugs. Grope does fall into the stereotypical Eastern European villain type, but there are hints that there’s more to him than meets the eye.
There’s plenty of peril, but no obvious blood. Sir Alfred is drunk at several points throughout the story, but it’s clearly depicted as a major problem and one of the reasons his daughter and Julius are trapped in a dangerous situation. The fast-paced plot, witty dialogue, and brisk artwork will appeal to strong middle grade readers and up. The small type and larger sections of text will discourage many kids and this won’t be for everyone, but kids, teens, and adults who like classic mystery and adventure stories will be an easy audience for this new series.
The Adventures of Julius Chancer, vol. 1: The Rainbow Orchid
by Garen Ewing