101-coverZoe has just started at a new school, and bullies have singled her out already. A trio of bold, confident girls stand up for Zoe, but then they start acting weird and rush off, not even talking to her. Things go from bad to worse after Zoe’s adoptive parents give her a baby book from her birth mother and she finds a mysterious gem inside. Suddenly, shadow monsters are attacking her and possessing the people around her, including the school bullies and even Zoe’s parents!

That’s when the trio of girls reappears. Summoning impossible steeds—like a winged horse and a giant butterflyand using flashy magical abilities, they defeat the monsters. Then, they finally stop and talk to Zoe. These girls are members of the Crystal Cadets, a mystical order that has long fought against an evil force called The Darkness. The Darkness gains strength when humans do bad things like cheat, lie, or hurt each other. It’s then able to manifest as shadow creatures and to possess and manipulate humanslike Zoe’s parents, who are still under its control. The Cadets fight The Darkness using powers granted to them by magical gems.

There should be seven cadets total, each with a different gemstone. Unfortunately, the last generation of Cadets was defeated and their gems scattered. These three girls are trying to reunite the Crystal Cadets to fight the darkness once again, and Zoe will be their newest member. Her mother’s gem, a diamond, gives her the power to summon a gryphon and use magic. The other girls invite her back to their headquarters, a castle, to train and help them find the last three Cadets. Once they have all seven, their combined power can free Zoe’s parents from The Darkness.

This book, collecting the Crystal Cadets floppies #1-8, is good-hearted and upbeat. The characters of the heroic Cadets are not deeply explored, but we do see different personalities emerging: one has to control her jealousy when new Cadets gain power and attention, while another wishes her powers were less stereotypically girly (told that a lot of girls would like to be able to summon a unicorn, she responds, “Do I look like a lot of girls?”). Our protagonists are also refreshingly diverse in terms of race and culture. We see the Cadets begin to learn about their powers, the history of their order, and what exactly befell the last generation.

The tone can be very earnest. Since the villain, The Darkness, grows stronger when humans misbehave, the Cadets are deeply concerned about fairness and wrongdoing. They are dismayed by seeing, for example, kids cheating at a skateboarding contest. There is some humor thrown in, too, though, and plenty of magical action scenes. Not all of these are battles: the Cadets sometimes use their powers for things like rescuing ships from a hurricane. Even when they fight, though, it’s not especially violent. Vanquished shadow creatures simply disappear, and no one ever gets really hurt.

The art is bright, colorful, and fun to look at, a good match for the positive tone of the story. The characters are very distinctive in appearance—no chance of mixing them up. They’re also dynamic and expressive. The panels vary in size and layout enough to keep things from getting boring. The scenes are clear and easy to understand. They tend toward simplicity rather than a lot of detail, but not to the point of making the panels look empty or boring.

Six of the seven Cadets are girls. The illustrations are full of elements likely to have particular appeal for many young female readers: crystals, unicorns, butterflies, and more. These elements aren’t just for decoration—they are used to fight The Darkness and rescue people. It’s nice to see a story that presents “girly” things as powerful and useful, while at the same time embracing the fact that not all of the female Cadets are traditionally feminine. This, combined with the positive, kid-friendly tone and the emphasis on friendship and teamwork, could make this book a good recommendation for fans of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.

Crystal Cadets, vol. 1
by Anne Toole
Art by Katie O’Neill
ISBN: 9781631404627
ROAR Comics/Lion Forge Comics, 2015
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12

  • Nic

    | She/Her Youth Services Librarian, Wake County Public Libraries

    Reviewer

    The child of two artists, Nic grew up loving art, reading, and those oh-so-special books that combine the two. Nic got her MLS from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her thesis was on the best shelving scheme for graphic novels in public libraries; the proposal won an Elfreda Chatman Research Award. She spends her free time reading, drawing, blogging, and writing fiction. She is a Youth Services Librarian at the Wake County Public Libraries in Raleigh, NC.

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