I went into this thinking, mostly due to the publisher, that it was a graphic novel. I was a bit surprised to open it up and find that, while there are certainly very lovely, impactful illustrations courtesy of Karl Johnsson, this is very much a middle-grade chapter book. That’s not a bad thing at all, just a surprise, and in hindsight a welcome foray by Papercutz into the wider book market.
The Eye Of The Storm further plunges readers straight into an alien environment, as names and descriptions are thrown about with little explanation of who these people are and, more mystifyingly, whom they’re arguing about. We cut over to two young Swedish siblings, Alice and Elias, getting into school shenanigans before heading home where the real trouble lies. Their parents have a volatile relationship and their mom, Tien, hasn’t come home after a very loud and public argument with their dad Adam. She’d headed off into the nearby Lunsen Forest with Adam in hot pursuit. He hadn’t been able to find any trace of her, however, and when she hadn’t returned the next morning, he called the police.
Unfortunately, the police seem to be under the impression that Adam harmed Tien. Unwilling to be processed into State care while the cops interrogate their dad, Alice and Elias take off into the forest themselves. They find some of the equipment they knew their mom, a university researcher, had brought into Lunsen. But they also find a lot more than they’d ever bargained for, as a strange figure leaps out of the shadows to attack!
The way that the Johansson siblings discover the truth of their heritage makes for compelling reading, as they’re swept away from earth and in search of their missing mother. I like how Alice and Elias are both very different people, and how neither is a “good” child. Instead, they’re very realistically depicted children who are allowed to have and express feelings, and to advocate for themselves. The confusion of the first few pages clears up as the children and aliens meet, and the book turns into a rollicking space opera that’s perfect for advancing readers.
I also really appreciated how the Johanssons are a multi-racial family, and the ongoing discussion of the ethics of keeping secrets, as well as what constitutes openness and progress. The Eye Of The Storm is a breath of fresh air in the juvenile science fiction market, with imperfect, relatable protagonists who are doing their best in the face of life-altering circumstances. I’m definitely looking forward to reading more.
Children Of The Phoenix Vol. 1: The Eye Of The Storm by Oskar Källner & Karl Johnsson was published December 12 2023 by Papercutz and is available from all good booksellers, including