April 17, 2008


Wicked Dead #3: Snared. By Stefan Petrucha and Thomas Pendleton. HarperTeen. $7.99.

Warriors: Power of Three—Book One: The Sight. By Erin Hunter. HarperCollins. $6.99.

My Sister the Vampire No. 4: Vampalicious! By Sienna Mercer. HarperTrophy. $5.99.

      From a publishing standpoint, a series is a good idea: readers who like the first installment are likely to stay with later ones, and may pass the series along by word of mouth to their friends. From an author’s viewpoint, a series is also a good idea: if it catches on, it can provide certain publication of many books of the same sort over a period of years. From a reader’s point of view, though, series are more of a mixed bag: they can go on and on and on; not all installments will necessarily be equally interesting; and there is inherent repetition in characters and plotting. One solution to this – for publishers, authors and readers – is simply to move on to another series. And that is quite easy to do in books for young readers, since series now come ready-made for a wide variety of age groups.

      The Wicked Dead series, for ages 12 and up, is really two series in one. The first is a framing story about ghost girls in a crumbling orphanage, “living” out their petty rivalries even though they are no longer alive. Part of what they are compelled to do, for reasons unknown, is to tell stories – which may (or may not) give them a way out of their entrapment and help them escape the equally ghostly and very nasty Headmistress. Each book of this series – the first two were called Lurker and Torn – is a story told by one of the ghost girls. Stefan Petrucha and Thomas Pendleton’s stories tend to be overlong, predictable and not especially horrific, but they are always fast-paced. The one in Snared is about a teenage girl on vacation who sees a really hot guy in the house next door and befriends him – only to learn that he is permanently grounded by two guardians. They are clearly the bad guys of the story – until it turns out that they aren’t, and the heroine (like all the basically nice but overly naïve protagonists of these stories) faces an awful fate.

      The many Warriors series are for younger readers – Power of Three targets ages 10 and up – and are all variations on the same theme: cats as epic heroes, forming their own society within which they compete and cooperate. The first Powers of Three book, now available in paperback, centers on three kits of the ThunderClan: Hollypaw, Jaypaw and Lionpaw, all of them grandchildren of the great ThunderClan leader, Firestar. The Sight is about a mysterious prophecy that seems to include all three Firestar descendants, and about problems that are spreading within the Clans and may threaten the very Clan structure itself. There is not much individuality among Erin Hunter’s many cat characters, except for those central to each book’s plot. But Hunter’s pacing is quick; her use of cat enemies is convincing within her fantasy world; and her continuing focus on honor and camaraderie fits right into the traditional mold of epic fantasy.

      Still-younger readers, ages 8-12, will enjoy the supernatural hijinks of My Sister the Vampire, which is all about two 13-year-old almost-twin sisters who were separated when they were one year old and have now found each other again. They’re not exactly twins, since Ivy is a vampire and Olivia isn’t, but since rediscovering each other, they have become as close as sisters can be – which means the prospect of being separated again (the core of the plot of Sienna Mercer’s latest series installment, Vampalicious!) is just too much to bear. So Ivy and Olivia decide they won’t let it happen. That means they have to solve a mystery about their biological father, Charles Vega, before he moves to Europe and takes Ivy with him. And that means that each girl has to impersonate the other, which leads to some amusingly awkward moments, as when non-vampire Olivia gets a “bloody cane” (which looks like a candy cane) from her father and has to think quickly to avoid eating it, while vampire Ivy has to consume a tofu steak – which, luckily, is served with “a red wine reduction sauce that tasted surprisingly like blood.” The first three books of this series – Switched, Fangtastic! and Re-Vamped – established the sisters’ relationship and laid out some of the mysteries of their life. Vampalicious! solves one big mystery, involving their birth, and leads to a reconciliation with their father: “For the first time, there weren’t any secrets to keep the three of them apart.” The series could end on this happy note – but will it? Time, Mercer and the Holiday Bat will tell….

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