Pendragon Book One: The Merchant of Death
by D.J. MacHale, Simon & Schuster, 2002.
In preparation for the sci-fi/fantasy workshop* I’m co-teaching this summer, I’ve been reading middle grade books in those genres. From the first page of MacHale’s series, I knew what was coming:
…two things happened yesterday that changed my life forever. The first was that I finally kissed Courtney Chetwynde…
The second thing was that I was launched through a wormhole called a “flume” and got jacked across the universe to a medieval planet called “Denduron” that’s in the middle of a violent civil war.
Reading this book as a writer, I was impressed with how much information MacHale packed into half a page. We get the voice of the narrator, Bobby Pendragon, his approximate age, and the problem he’s going to face. From the first page to the end, it’s one close call after another.
MacHale’s used an interesting plot device by alternating a third-person narrator recounting the events that Bobby’s two friends experience with Bobby’s first-person account in his journal.
For me, The Merchant of Death wasn’t a “can’t put it down” read, but it was good enough to keep me going to the end.
Omen of the Stars Warriors: The Fourth Apprentice
by Erin Hunter, Harper, 2009
By contrast, I ditched the Warrior cats book during the first chapter. Maybe I’m suffering from an aging memory, and that’s the reason I gave up on this book. Author Hunter threw so many new names at me that I became irritated. Perhaps she was assuming that the reader (me) had read the previous series. I hadn’t. As a writer of a fantasy series, I’ve thought about this, and, in my case, I don’t expect the reader to know what came before. A couple of sentences of backstory are helpful, and don’t slow things down too much.
Hunter has written several of these Warrior Cat series. I don’t know how she keeps all the cats straight in her mind. Admittedly, in the beginning pages, she provides a list of all the clan members and a description of each. Even so, it would strain my reader brain to remember the differences among Briarpaw, Blossompaw, and Bumblepaw.
I did like that she included two maps. For my own Karakesh Chronicles, I found that a map was necessary to gauge distances and directions.
Sometime this spring, the third book of the Karakesh Chronicles, Awakening Magic, will be published. It’s my favorite of the five and will be available online at Amazon.com and Handersen Publishing.
*Hudson Valley Writing Project, SUNY New Paltz, Youth Writing Camp