Capstone Publishing’s imprint Stone Arch generally focuses on popular chapter book series, like Jake Maddox and spin-off graphic novel series like Far-Out Fables. I was a little surprised to find a French import in their offerings and it turned out to be a series starter that will definitely attract readers who like beautiful fantasy art and stories.
Nola, living a lonely life with her father after her mother’s death, is quietly thrilled to receive a special music box on her eighth birthday. What she doesn’t expect is to be carried away through the music box into a mysterious land, the fantastic world of Pandorient. She’s been called there by old friends of her mother’s who seek her healing power, and Nola is determined to help now that her mother is gone. As she tries to help her new friends save their own mother, suffering from a mysterious and deadly illness, she is fascinated and frightened by the strange creatures, magical experiences, and marvels of this new world. Along her journey she will discover hints about her mother’s mysterious past, warnings of the possible dangers of this new world, and the possibility of new adventures and responsibilities as she inherits her mother’s legacy.
The art swirls across the pages in hues of pink, purple, and gray. Most of the humanoid women are exaggeratedly slender and elf-like, with Nola and the other children darting around them like tiny fairies. The men loom over them, huge and bulky, including Nola’s massive father and the Pandorient military. Pandorient’s various creatures have an intriguing array of body-types and personalities. There’s a fox-like villain, a huge purple creature with a beard of tentacles and massive teeth who turns out to be not quite as scary as he looks, creatures that look like moving plants or bushes, and anthropomorphized animals. Action explodes across the pages with exclamations, fights, and lots of running, dodging, and hiding, as Nola and her new friends follow their quest.
The first story doesn’t quite end on a cliffhanger, but there are definite issues left unresolved for the next titles in the series, including the hints about Nola’s mother, the militarized government and evil ruler, and the possibility of Pandorient itself endangering Nola. At a little over 50 pages, it’s a quick read, but the five books of the series were released simultaneously so readers can race through what appears to be the entire series. Fans of Kibuishi’s Amulet and those who enjoyed other European fantasy imports will be delighted with this new series and the attractive art.
The Music Box Vol. 1: Welcome to Pandorient
Art by Gije
Capstone Stone Arch Books, 2023
Publisher Age Rating: 8-10 years
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)
Creator Representation: French