Phantom Hearts Part 1: Bound Review
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When I settled in to read Phantom Hearts Part 1: Bound, a young adult steampunk fantasy written in words and images by Chris Michaels and Reema Farra, I was already intrigued by the concept of a mixed media interactive e-book. I was immediately impressed by an incredible plot and hauntingly vivid art. Unfortunately, though, I was disappointed to find that most of the bonus features contained errors, which dampened the overall interactive experience for me.

Phantom Hearts offers an imaginative storyline. Set in the 31st century, it’s about Anadell, a world emerging from “steam driven wonders” to “modern movies, electric lights, clockwork automata, and airships.” It’s also about conflict. Glass Water, Ilsa has fallen under terrorist attack. Once a place of “science and culture and art,” Ilsa is now plagued by rebellion and civil war. “Majick” is outlawed, and the Grey Wolves, an elite arm of the military, have orders to extirpate it.

In this war-torn land, we meet Jason Everett, born of nobility and groomed to save the Republic. But he has different plans; he vows to complete one last mission, and then run away with his love, Hannah Blue. She’s a slave girl, Taker of the Dead. When Jason dies, Hannah cannot believe it, so she risks her life and sneaks into Jason’s funeral to see if it’s true. At the funeral, everything changes for Hannah. The world shifts from grey to color for a moment before, just as abruptly, everything turns back to the way it was. Before she figures out what’s happening, Hannah is arrested and scheduled for execution. Travis, Jason’s friend, helps her escape and find the necromancers who will resurrect Jason. Now Hannah and Travis must flee from the Ilsan army. But can Hannah trust Travis? And can they stay alive?

Conceptually innovative, this 72-page e-book reveals layers of Ilsan folklore and history through text, images, maps, and seven bonus features. Some of the bonus features are added stories, informational pieces, and lessons on various topics. I enjoyed the clever way that the bonuses are accessed. Throughout the story, a symbol and a code word appear. This word can be typed into a Kindle e-reader (or another e-reader with this capability). Otherwise, the code can easily be viewed by entering it into your PC.

However, there are problems. Several spelling and punctuation errors detract from the multi-faceted experience. For example, in one of the bonuses—a video that I was particularly excited about—the narrator stumbles over a couple of words, the video itself is uninteresting, and the text within the video contains spelling mistakes. Details like this were sacrificed to the bigger picture.

Still, although the interactive element of Phantom Hearts didn’t quite work for me, the storyline itself is excellent. It’s an ambitious and creative endeavor, so big that the finer points get sacrificed. If the writers take more care in editing, the upcoming installments could be something very special.

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