Monday, July 16, 2012

The Revenge of the Shadow King by Derek Benz & J.S. Lewis

Blue lightning bolt boy. That's Max. The only clue to his superpowers is thunder, the color blue, and electrical energy that crackles over his skin. Unfortunately, not enough is explained as to how Max got these powers. This is just one of many missing plot elements that makes this story fall short of its potential, BUT, students will like this series. There is plenty of action and the monsters are fun and scary. Just don't go looking for deep character and plot development. It ain't there folks.

WHOOHOO, the setting is in Minnesota -  I'm thinking this will be fun - the state I grew up in. But it wasn't. Fun that is... The setting could have been anywhere. Max lives in a rural town in Minnesota. The authors don't capture the agrarian, small town atmosphere and don't have much by way of details. Max's dad is a billionaire landowner, but it isn't clear why the family doesn't live in Minneapolis by the major airport for dad or Mall of America for mom. Perhaps if they had moved to Avalon after their divorce so Max's mom could be by her mother it would have made sense. But this is just one of many questions I have throughout the book. So all you Minnesotans out there, don't read this for local flavor.  WHOOHOO, most readers will say, over the creepy Slayer goblin who scares the bejeebers out of Max when he shows up in his bedroom in the prologue. There's nothing like a sharp-nailed creepy killing monster at the top of the food chain threatening human beings to hook a reader. You will like that.

Max plays a card game with his three best friends called, Round Table, that is being taught to them and played by Iver, an older man who owns an antique shop. When the characters on the cards come to life and Max discovers a powerful magic book, he unleashes a monster that wants to rule the world. The monsters not only take over a fellow student turning him into a faerie, they attack adults and unleash chaos on the weather and inhabitants of Avalon. Will the four save the world?

The adults move the plot along in a contrived way. They do not react in normal ways to things that happen to the kids especially in the scene where the four pass out from smoke inhalation and are almost burned to death. Rather than being worried about their health, the adults instantly blame them for the fires and ground them. Max's mom is particularly dippy. Iver doesn't explain circumstances either when he saves their lives. Instead he withdraws and makes cryptic comments.  Other times I have a glimmer of hope for the adults, such as when Ms. Heen sparkled some blue energy of her own. I thought, oh good, we will finally find out how blue boy got his powers. But we never do. She's just another member of the blue energy wonders. Emphasis on wonder. Even Iver has a brilliant blaze of light that he unleashes on a goblin. But it isn't blue. And it isn't explained. 

The characters are not really developed and don't have much internal conflicts. Max is upset about his parents divorce but it isn't explored much. The villains are one-dimensional with no complexities or understanding as to why they became the way they did. Ray was jealous and that's about it. Blackstone is greedy. Max's mom has no redeeming qualities that I could see. Iver is supposed to have a connection with the kids but that isn't developed well either. He doesn't explain things to them after he saves their lives and as their mentor he should have explained the existence of goblins and their connection with the cards. Harley is the big strong friend. Ernie is the clown. Natalia is the brain and adult voice of reason reminding the others right from wrong. That's it in a nutshell. Blue nutshell, that is.

The plot meanders and I couldn't picture a time frame for the setting. The kids have email, but no cell phones. Natalia rides a banana seat bicycle which is what I rode in the 70s. The girls are wearing dresses at school and I'm picturing my moms generation. The setting never took root for me. There is plenty of action even if it jumps all over. There are portals with tests and monsters trying to kill the kids most of the time. It oozes external tension even if it doesn't always make sense. If you can overlook the plot inconsistencies and don't care too much about characters, you will enjoy the hopscotch action in this fantasy novel. I think I'll even read the sequel. I've got blue wonder.

Reading Level 5.1
2 out of 5 Smileys

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