Category Archives: Reviews

Endymion Spring by Matthew Skelton, a Review

Endymion Spring
by Matthew Skelton
Delacorte Press, 2006,392 pages

World view: Moral. The author seems to have the odd idea that children are morally pure.

Style: This is a slow-paced book about a book with plenty of description, some of it with beautiful metaphors. It is really three stories: two about two different boys interacting with a magical dragon-skin book, and the third about the modern boy’s family, which is having relationship problems.

This story is mostly set in the modern world in Oxford, England, where Blake, an American boy, and his sister and mother have come for a time. But it has a counterpart in the 1400s in Mainz, Germany, featuring another boy. This boy’s name is Endymion Spring. Endymion Spring is a mute apprentice to the famous inventor of the printing press, Johann Gutenberg.

Johann Fust is Gutenberg’s investor. In this story he is a major villain; the author suggests that he was the person who became Dr. Faustus in legend, the fellow who sold his soul to the devil. Fust stole a dragon skin, which has transformed itself into pure and magical paper. Words and riddles appear on it. But Fust is unable to read them. He needs to find a child to read it for him. (The dragon skin reveals itself only to someone who is not trying to get it. This is always a boy.)

Fust tries to trick Endymion into reading the dragon skin paper for him. Fust wants the dragon skin because it contains “all the secrets of the universe,” and will make the reader”be like God,” Fust says.

The modern-day villain tries the same thing, tricking Blake into locating the book and putting its several pieces together. Then the villian tries to steal it.

This book is great reading for someone who appreciates a nice metaphor and doesn’t mind wading through a lot of description and slow-moving events that don’t advance the plot quickly, including dinner parties. The cover definitely attracted the librarian in our local library, who commented on it. I left it laying around my house, though, and none of my teenage sons picked it up.–Phyllis Wheeler

The Alchemyst by Michael Scott, a Review

The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel
by Michael Scott, Delacorte Press, 2007, 369 pages.

Worldview: Darwinian atheism.

Style: A high-action, imaginative story with memorable characters that will draw your kids in.

Review: An Elder Race used to live on the earth, while humans were still hanging out in trees. These elders, who have magical powers, are divided into Dark Elders and others. The Dark Elders would like to return to power, enslaving or killing the human race. Their puppet is the human villain, Dr. John Dee.

This story has a strong hook: it mentions the Immortal Nicholas Flamel on the cover. Flamel is one of the characters in the Harry Potter stories, but he wasn’t invented by J.K. Rowling. Instead, Rowling took a legend and based a character on it. Scott has done the same. Scott’s cover also looks faintly like one of the symbols featured in the Potter books (the Deathly Hallows).

Nicholas and Perenelle Flamel are legendary French individuals, born in the 1300s, supposed to have found the secret of immortality. In Scott’s tale, Flamel becomes mentor to American teenage twins Josh and Sophie Newman as the result of a struggle described in the opening scene of the book. In the struggle, Dr. John Dee and his henchmen rob Flamel of his magic book, except for two critical pages.

As the story unfolds, Dee is pursuing Flamel and the twins. The twins find out they have powers and are the subjects of a prophecy about powerful twins. Flamel takes Sophie to an Elder One to have her powers awakened. Josh has to wait till the next book (when his powers are awakened by a Dark Elder).

The central characters are clearly the twins. They are motivated by loyalty to friends and to each other, a tribal sort of morality rather than a Biblical one. One of the main themes involves the question of Josh’s attraction to the dark side. We’ve heard this one before. The kids lie to their parents about where they are. The author excuses this by implying the parents wouldn’t believe them.

This book and its sequels will probably draw the attention of your teen at some point. My 16-year-old fantasy fan was drawn to them. Be sure to discuss the atheist viewpoint.–Phyllis Wheelerthumbsdown

Pendragon Series by D.J. MacHale, a Review

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Pendragon: the Merchant of Death (Book 1 of a series)
by D. J. MacHale

Aladdin Paperbacks, 2002, 374 pages

Worldview: A moral universe with no discernible higher power.

Style: High action.

Review: This tale describes a story taking place on another planet, Denduron. It is mostly told by the protagonist, Bobby Pendragon, a 14-year-old American boy who strangely enough takes the time to write to his best friend Mark and girl friend Courtney, who remain back home, whenever he has the opportunity. The reader reads the letters along with Mark and Courtney.

Bobby is taken to Denduron through a wormhole gateway by his Uncle Press, who embroils him in a conflict between two factions who live there. One of these factions has enslaved the other. Meddlers from other worlds, called Travelers, are both good guys and bad guys. One, the oddly named Saint Dane, is a hugely evil bad guy who is abetting the conflict. Others, including Press and Bobby Pendragon, are trying to stop Saint Dane. Bobby starts off as feeling himself to be very incompetent, and gradually picks up some courage and competence as the story unfolds. He and another young Traveler, Loor, work together to foil Saint Dane. Saint Dane excapes to another planet through a worm hole. We suspect that will be the setting of the next book, with a similar plot: foiling Saint Dane, this time in a different world.

The story has many imaginative aspects as well as interesting characters. However, it fails to move me on several counts. One is the breezy teen-speak that Bobby uses for most of the book. It’s just not that easy to read. Another is the improbability of the plot resolution. Once Saint Dane is removed, the warring factions simply stop their conflict and begin to help each other. This is a feud that’s been going on for longer than Saint Dane was present. So why would removing him completely solve it? It’s not clear to me.

Another irritation was that some plot elements are left dangling, to be resolved in future books I suppose. These are major plot elements having to do with who Bobby is. We are told near the end of the book that the family that raised him is not his real family, and that Uncle Press is not his uncle. Bobby’s family has vanished, so he can’t come back to “second earth” and live a normal life. He is stuck being a Traveler now.

Despite these irritations, I do recommend this book for young readers. The high action is sure to please, and the moral compass of the work is sound.–Phyllis Wheeler

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Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer, a Review

Artemis Fowl
by Eoin Colfer, Hyperion Books for Children, 2001, 277 pages

Worldview: Amoral. The “good guy” is a criminal. This is bound to confuse younger readers.

Style: A young adult novel with plenty of action to keep readers turning pages.

Review: Artemis Fowl is the name of a 12-year-old genius who is also a criminal mastermind. As the high-action story unfolds, it becomes clear that Artemis is, in fact, the hero–we find ourselves cheering for his nefarious plots. This is a confusing position to put a child reader into!

We also cheer for his victims, who are morally upstanding members of the fairy police. Artemis eventually makes friends with these members of the fairy police, so that the book emphasizes tribal or friendship loyalty as a supreme virtue. It puts other moral no-nos, such as thievery and deception, on the “naughty but OK” list. There are two successful thieves in the book whom the author clearly likes: Artemis and a dwarf. Also, the word “damn” appears in the book. In addition, the author makes up a fairy swear word and has his fairy police using it all the time.

Your children will probably check the Fowl books out and read them, if they have library access. My kids all have. The reason is that, despite the amoral framework, this book is a good read. The characters are memorable, there is plenty of action, and the story has a zany science-fiction quality to it.

Artemis and his bodyguard Butler are seeking to kidnap a fairy and hold it for ransom, in order to enhance the depleted family fortune. Turns out the fairies have mostly left the surface of the earth to colonize the center of the earth, driven below-ground by human activity. Their advanced technology allows them to travel back and forth to the surface.

Artemis and Butler manage to kidnap a fairy police woman named Holly Short. Ransom is eventually paid, and partly stolen by the dwarf thief At the end, Holly is released, Artemis is rich, and so is the dwarf. On the way, Holly has saved Butler’s life and that of Butler’s sister. And she heals Artemis’ depressed mother. All’s well that ends well. Or is it?

This imaginative story will draw your teen in. Be sure to discuss the world view.–Phyllis Wheelerthumbsdown