Tower of Treasure

by Scott Chantler

Kids Can Press, 2010

112 pages

I’ve been on a graphic novel kick lately, though I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because a lot of great recommendations are making their way to me. Maybe it’s because, in my other life as an omnivorous reader, I’ve been working my way through the polar opposite of comics: a wordy, un-illustrated, 21-book saga about the Napoleonic War. Or maybe it’s just because it’s been a while since I’ve read much in the genre.

Whatever the case, I’m taking you along for the ride.

My latest discovery is Scott Chantler’s Three Thieves series, which features 14-year-old acrobat Dessa and her friends Topper and Fisk. In Book One, Tower of Treasure, we meet the main characters and follow them as they attempt to burgle the queen’s treasury (the tower of the title).

Set in a fantasy facsimile of medieval Europe, the story begins with Dessa and her friends visiting the city of Kingsbridge. They are part of a traveling circus, with Dessa’s tightrope act as the centerpiece. Fisk’s job is to draw crowds with feats of strength; Topper’s is to pick the audience’s pockets while they watch Dessa perform.

Dessa, we learn, has joined the circus to look for her brother, who went missing years before when a mystery man burned down their home. When she and Topper bungle her act, the circus owner turns them onto the streets. Hungry and depressed, Dessa reluctantly joins the devious Topper and simple-minded Fisk in their unsuccessful effort to empty the royal bank account.

They end up in the custody of Captain Drake and the Royal Chamberlain, who turns out to be the villian Dessa’s seeking. He tries to have the three friends executed, but they escape–as does he, leaving behind a room and journal full of curious experiments and notations.

Drake, who is good-hearted but loyal to a fault, follows the queen’s order to pursue Dessa and her friends. Dessa and her friends, meanwhile, set off in search of the Chamberlain.

I chose this book for review because, as I’ve mentioned before, it’s rare to find kid-friendly heroines in graphic novels. They tend to be more along the lines of Lara Croft–ostensibly strong female figures but really just barely-clothed, overly violent sex objects designed to appeal to adolescent boys’ hormones.

Dessa, on the other hand, looks like a real girl. She has a trim but genuine female shape, bobbed hair that drops into her face after she’s been running, and a spray of freckles across her nose. In other words, girls can identify with her without saddling themselves with unhealthy expectations about their bodies and sexuality.

She also has a true friendship with her male buddies–she’s not just there for them to ogle or rescue from danger. They genuinely like her and admire her skills and cleverness. When they join her on her quest, it’s not because she’s a helpless girl; it’s because they all need each other.

Plus, I’m a sucker for books with girls in atypical roles. An acrobat girl–especially one who uses her skills to escape from prison and a horde of soldiers–is an unusual heroine, to say the least. Her chutzpah in confronting the Chamberlain and the queen, not to mention her daredevil stunts, are just fabulous.

Finally, I love when a book expands a girl’s range of identification. Tower of Treasure is that kind of book: it gives girls an unusual and new list of people they can be and things they can do. Are they likely to find themselves in need of a model for escaping from prison or calling out a greedy queen? No, but they might need encouragement to pursue a passion for gymnastics or stand up to a bully.

This is even the kind of book that, later in life, may become the inspiration for a career spent pursuing justice or fighting corruption. For my part, it gives me hope that legions of little girls will read it and feel stronger because of it. Plus, I can’t wait to see what else Dessa will do.

As of October 2013, Scott Chantler had released three volumes of Three Thieves, with another four slated for publication. The series is best read as a single story.

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