In Review: Nnewts Book Two: The Rise of Herk

If it wasn't for all the cliffhangers, I would be raving about this book.

Nnewts Book Two: The Rise of Herk by Doug TenNapel

Published by Graphix/Scholastic, January 26, 2016. Hardcover of 202 pages at $19.99 and Paperback of 202 pages at $10.99. Intended for ages 8 – 12, grades 3 – 7. 

Note: I read an advanced copy so anything may have changed by publication.

The cover: Herk has somehow gotten himself to straddle the top of the wall around the city and is raising his hand in attempt to use his abilities to keep a gigantic monster away from the ones he loves. This scene is in the novel and occurs close to the book’s climax. It highlights several aspects of this book: the title character and his abilities, the setting, and the looming threat just outside the city. The title of the book and the author’s name obscure the antagonist and that’s a good thing, because a full reveal of the creature would spoil much. A good cover from creator/writer/artist Doug TenNapel and cool, calming colors from Katherine Garner make this pleasant to look at. Overall grade: A

The premise: From the back cover, “In this exciting sequel to Book One: Escape From the Lizzarks, Herk, the lovable Nnewt, is happy to have a new family and a new place to call home. But when the evil Lizzarks make an all-out assault on Amphibopolis, Herk musk seek the help of the Megasloth to save the city and his adopted family. Meanwhile, Sissy, Herk’s sister, discovers the dark truth about their long-lost brother, Zerk — a truth that will affect Herk and the future of all Nnewts.” I’m hoping that I won’t be too lost reading this, as I didn’t read the first book. I’m sure I’ll be able to follow the story, but my fingers are crossed TenNapel will clue me, and other new readers, into what’s gone before. Overall grade: B+

The characters: Herk is a fun character. He wants to do what’s best and fair for everyone, but no one will believe him when he says that the city is to be invaded. His love of his family and friends is strong, and he’ll all that he can to keep them safe. Though he does have some special abilities, he hasn’t tested them as much as he will before the book is over. His sister is Sissy, who’s being held by the evil Lizzark Zerk. She’s unwilling to listen to anything he tells her, given she’s a prisoner — albeit one being kept in the nicest of towers, until he reveals something that shocks her and has her questioning her family’s future. I didn’t have much buy-in with her or Zerk because I hadn’t read the previous book, and neither character contributes to Herk’s tale. I might have felt more from them if I had read Book One. Sayer Nok is the most educated Nnewt in the city and he’s doing all he can to prove the city will be attacked. He’s as doddering as classic wisemen can be, and his lines are informative and funny. General Mander is in charge of the law within Amphibopolis and his dry responses to everything made him a humorous inclusion. Mander has a daughter named Launa who’s confined to a wheelchair. She contributes to the story by helping Herk and could be an eventual love interest for him. The villains of the book are the Lizzarks, who have an incredible arsenal to wipe out the Nnewts, including Geck-Barfers who more than live up to their names. The characters are fun and entertaining. Overall grade: A

The settings: There are only two settings, Amphibopolis and Zerk’s castle. The latter only shows castle interiors which are made of stone. Not much interesting there, as one would expect the interiors of a castle to be. Amphibopolis is an amazing locale. The city is a terrific collection of building of various sizes, from the huge to the tiny home of Herk’s family. Sayer Nok’s dwelling is a fantastic structure; its exterior is Nnewt-Gothic and its interior is full of every type of gizmo and book one would want to see of a character in this position. Even the Internnewt is a fantastic location. In fact, I was disappointed somewhat in the book’s action packed ending because I wanted to see more of the settings. If the worst complaint is that a reader wanted to see more of the backgrounds, a writer should be so lucky. Overall grade: A

The action: The action begins when Lizzurch, a Lizzark, bursts into the family’s home and Herk has to stop him. This was a very exciting sequence and I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough to see what was going to happen. The invasion, which is the last half of the book (100 pages!!!), has the action really turns up, with fantastic weapons, innocents turned into villains, and beasts that would make Guillermo del Toro clap in glee. There’s a lot of chasing, with a few monsters running about, but there’s nothing to terrify readers. If anything, readers will be pouring over the artwork, trying to fathom a solution to the Nnewts’ woes. Overall grade: A+

The conclusion: NOOOooooo! It’s a cliffhanger. Nothing is resolved. The invasion, Herk’s fate, Anthigar’s discovery, Sissy’s fate — none of it comes to any conclusion. This was frustrating. Given how this book began, I think most of the initial installment in this series was wrapped up, but not here. I enjoyed reading this, but was really bummed out that I was left hanging with every plot line. However, younger fans might be willing to take this ending much better than I did. Having only read this one book, I felt let down. Overall grade: C+

The art: Doug TenNapel’s artwork is incredible. I was drawn into every inch of his illustrations. The settings are so well designed I poured over page and panel for fear I was missing some interesting little detail. Amphibopolis is staggeringly amazing. There is literally something new to see around every corner. The characters are also amazing. I was afraid that it might be difficult to tell the Nnewts apart, but that was never an issue as each has their own unique look. Some of my favorite images of the book are the bugged-out eyes of Sayer Nok, the monsters employed by the Lizzarks, and Necky — whatever the heck Necky is. Once I was done reading the book, I had to go back to soak in every visual element of this book. Overall grade: A+

The color: Only the first fourteen pages of my review copy came colored, so I have to base my review of Katherine Garner’s work on these pages. From what I can see, Garner is doing an incredible job. The opening pages show her a master of dark and light, as the cool, dark evening highlights the Nnewts in their homes, illuminated by strong yellow lights. The blues used to color Sayer Nok’s residence create an air of peace. The interiors of this building are wonderful, with Garner changing the scheme to match the story. The coloring on Egby is excellent — I love how his skin blends from pale green to pale pink. My biggest regret of this preview copy is not seeing all that Garner has done. Overall grade: A

The final line: If it wasn’t for all the cliffhangers, I would be raving about this book. That said, what TenNapel has created is enormously engaging visually and story-wise. My opinion of this book could improve when the next installment is released. This could be The Empire Strikes Back version of a trilogy, so I can’t hit it too much. Younger readers, the intended audience, might also be much more tolerant of its ending. Overall grade: B+

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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