The Music Box 1: Welcome to Pandorient by Carbone and Gijé
Stone Arch Books (January 1, 2023)
64 pages; $7.99 paperback; $5.99 e-book
Reviewed by Joshua Gage
Having always been drawn to the world of children, Bénédicte Carboneill, aka Carbone, made the logical choice when it came time to decide on a profession by becoming a teacher. After joining the teaching ranks in 1995, she went on to become a principal before writing entered her life and quickly took over. In 2015, she tried her hand as a comics author with Le Pass’Temps (published by Jungle), taking on the pen name Carbone. She soon followed with La boîte à musique (Dupuis; The Music Box, Europe Comics, Capstone), and already has multiple other series in store, which readers can look forward to discovering over the coming years.
Jérôme Gillet, aka Gijé, was born in 1988 in Lubumbashi (Congo). Following his studies at the Saint-Luc Institute in Liège (Belgium), specializing in illustration, he moved to Luxembourg to continue his training in animation. After graduating in 2012, he started out as a freelance 2D artist before joining Zeilt Production as a computer graphics designer, and gained experience working on advertising campaigns, short films (such as Long Live New York), and animated series (Barababor, Prochain arrêt). The year 2018 marks a major evolution in his career, as Gijé turned to the comics world with the adventure series La boîte à musique (Dupuis; The Music Box, Europe Comics, Capstone), written by Carbone. Their children’s dark fantasy graphic novel series The Music Box has been translated into English and is due to be published in 2023.
The Music Box focuses on Nola, who receives a music box from her father for her eighth birthday. The music box belongs to her mother, who recently passed away and whom Nola is still grieving. The music box turns out to be magic, and Nola is shrunk into a magical world where not is all as it seems. Pandorient is as beautiful and lush as a Miyazaki film, with characters as wild and varied as any Valente fantasy, but there is a dark underbelly to this kingdom, and a tyrannical leader, and while Nola survives her first adventure in Pandorient, she’s warned about its dangers if she’s ever to return.
This is a beautifully told story, perfect for new fantasy and dark fantasy readers. The plot is dark enough that there’s real fear and cunning, but it’s not so scary as to leave young readers having nightmares. The immediate plot resolves with all the good parties safe and a few antagonists get their just comeuppance, but leaves enough unresolved for there to be a sequel and to keep readers interested and eager for the next volume. The characters come across as dark, possibly even menacing or threatening, but not so terrifying as to leave Nola, and any readers, emotionally scarred. The art is fun and cartoonish, perfect for the intended audience, but isn’t so simplified as to cause readers to lose interest.
Overall, this is a solid entry into dark fantasy, possibly even dystopian fantasy, for early readers just starting to dabble. Carbone’s world of Pandorient is lush and imaginative, beautifully rendered by Gijé’s art. The plot is fun and leaves plenty of room for a multitude of sequels. This is a short but exciting entry into horror for junior readers for whom the graphic novel format might appeal, but older readers will enjoy this series just as well.