December 24, 2015
(+++) MISSIONS CONCLUDE AND MISSIONS CONTINUE
The Hypnotists, Book Three: The Dragonfly Effect. By Gordon Korman. Scholastic. $16.99.
Floors, Book 3: The Field of Wacky Inventions. By Patrick Carman. Scholastic. $6.99.
The 39 Clues: Doublecross—Book Two: Mission Hindenburg. By C. Alexander London. Scholastic. $12.99.
The Elementia Chronicles, Book Two: The New Order. By Sean Fay Wolfe. Harper. $9.99.
There is a certain point at which multi-book adventure series for preteens seem to continue of their own volition to their inevitable conclusions. Pretty much anyone who is pulled deeply enough into the world of a trilogy to read the first two books is going to want to find out what happens in the third and last one. And if the endings are, more often than not, quite predictable, that almost does not matter, since young readers will want to know how things get to the grand finale just as much as they want to find out what eventually happens. So The Dragonfly Effect and The Field of Wacky Inventions both have built-in audiences. Neither is really worth reading on its own, and neither makes a good entry point to the series that it concludes, but both wrap up their respective sequences satisfactorily, although unsurprisingly. In Gordon Korman’s final part of The Hypnotists, Jackson (Jax) Opus has been pressed into the service of the U.S. government, which wants to harness his ability to hypnotize anyone – even over a video link – for the Hypnotic Warfare Research Department. Predictably, Jax finds out that even though his nemesis, Dr. Elias Mako, has been jailed, there may be even more nefarious bad guys out there. In fact, Jax may not be the only person with the distance-hypnotism power – and as is to be expected, if there is someone else who can do what Jax does, that person is evil (there are never just two people with extraordinary powers on the same side in tales like this). Eventually, after – no kidding – 11 million traffic accidents in which there is not a single fatality, Jax’s friend, Kira, says that “maybe hypnotism is just too dangerous to be used by anybody,” but Jax himself has to use his power in spite of himself to set things right and return his life to an even keel. Korman is a reliable author for ages 8-12, knitting his plots together skillfully if not really very surprisingly. Readers who made it through the first two parts of The Hypnotists will find little to surprise them in the last novel – including the eventual fate of Dr. Mako – but will breathe a formulaic sigh of relief when Jax comes through his trials in fine form.
Matters are lighter and more amusing in The Field of Wacky Inventions, written by another trustworthy purveyor of preteen adventures, Patrick Carman. This is the last book about one of those all-too-typical eccentric adults with a basically good heart and a determination to make preteens jump through innumerable hoops in order to gain a great reward at the end. Here protagonists Leo and Remi become part of a competition to own the entire Whippet hotel empire – the whole thing engineered by Merganzer D. Whippet, whose name shows how offbeat he is (or something like that). The best character here has a much simpler name: Phil. He is a tiny Tyrannosaurus Rex and a scene-stealer if there ever was one. The rest of the book is less interesting: the roofs of the many Whippet hotels fly off and are reassembled into a brand-new building at which competitors from the various parts of the Whippet empire must solve puzzles in order to decide who, at the end, will be in charge of everything. Miniature dinosaurs are part of all this, along with anti-gravity, a gigantic roller coaster, and so forth. Carman throws the challenges out willy-nilly in the reasonable expectation that readers will know that Leo and Remi will overcome all of them in the end. There is a bit of a surprise when Leo gets a girlfriend named Lucy during his puzzle-solving quest: she is as resourceful as he and helps him make it through all the difficulties. Much less surprising is the continued attempt by the evil Ms. Sparks to foul everything up – but this plot thread gets less attention here than it might, with Carman introducing a typical spy-in-our-midst puzzle that turns out to get little attention and have little importance. Despite the book’s title, The Field of Wacky Inventions is not really about a field of wacky inventions – it is about (yet another) competition involving (yet another) set of challenges to be solved by (yet another) resourceful preteen protagonist backed up by (yet another) set of friends. Readers who stayed with the first two books will find this third one a satisfying, if scarcely revelatory, conclusion of the trilogy.
A trilogy is little more than a drop in the bucket where the continuing saga of The 39 Clues is concerned. This multi-author, multimedia extravaganza, with its online participation and trading cards and multiple book series, includes (in its book portion) 11 novels from the original sequence, six in Cahills vs. Vespers, four in Unstoppable, and – so far – two in Doublecross. The second of those, Mission Hindenburg, continues the ever-more-implausible plotting and standardized writing – this time assigned to a new author in the series, C. Alexander London, whose style is (as it should be) indistinguishable from that of the other writers. The underlying premise of Doublecross is that someone called simply the Outcast has been banished from the Cahill family and is now seeking revenge by re-creating four famous historical disasters and giving the Cahill kids, Amy and Dan, just days to stop each of them (presenting them, of course, one after the other rather than all at once, which would be unstoppable). The first book was Mission Titanic, which obviously pointed to a disaster in the ocean even if not to the Titanic itself. In the second book, there is obviously going to be some sort of air disaster, but since nobody travels by airships such as the Hindenburg anymore, Dan and Amy have to figure out just what the Outcast’s aim is – aided, or perhaps complicated, by the usual sorts of cryptic clues that encourage readers to solve the mystery along with the Cahill kids. The one intriguing element of all the various series of The 39 Clues is that they include some historically accurate information alongside all the nonsensical plotting and general silliness. That is the case here, too; and also here is the typical world-spanning travel that is integral to these books, with chapters set in Athens, Moscow, Massachusetts, “the stratosphere (134,000 feet over Europe and falling),” the troposphere, and the thermosphere. This time there really is an explosion aboard an airship – a bit of a twist there – but of course it is not a ship carrying Amy or Dan or any of the other primary characters in the series. That allows Mission Hindenburg to come to a somewhat ambiguous conclusion that, at the very end, presents a revelation that may, just may, point toward the identity of the Outcast – although not to the reason for his diabolical plotting. That may be revealed when this part of The 39 Clues continues: the next book will be called Mission Hurricane.
There is nothing quite so grandiose at stake in The Elementia Chronicles, a trilogy in which Sean Fay Wolfe presents adventures set in the world of the video game Minecraft and starring the block-headed, Lego-like characters from the game. The New Order, the second book in the series, continues the unsurprising adventures of Charlie, Kat and Stan after their successful ousting of King Kev. Unfortunately for the good guys but fortunately for the plot, King Kev’s followers are still at large and still plotting mischief, and an entirely new group called the Noctem Alliance is emerging as an even bigger threat. The way the books point to the video-game origin of the story is one of their few unusual elements – for example, Stan’s full name is Stan2012, and after defeating King Kev, Stan became president of the Minecraft server, Elementia (hence the series’ overall title). Wolfe wrote this book when he was 17 years old, so the super-simple descriptions and wooden dialogue are scarcely a surprise; indeed, older authors of heroic fantasies often do no better. Still, the things the characters say wear thin after a short while and thinner still as they continue saying much the same things in much the same way, again and again. Here, for example, is a character named DZ practicing introspection (ellipses in the original): “‘Well, you see…look, Stan, it’s like this. You, Charlie, Kat, and everybody else are my best friends, and it’s awesome hanging out with you. And I know that you need my help to run the city and all. And even if you didn’t, it’s something that I really enjoy doing. I honestly love my life on this server, I really do. It’s just…every now and then, I miss how simple everything was out in the desert. There was no war, no conflict, not much of anything, it was just me, by myself, living a life of solitude, and it was never boring, ’cause I was constantly fighting mobs and nomads and crap just to stay alive.’” This sort of comment – about there being no war or conflict except for constant fighting to stay alive – rolls off the page without a shred of irony, and the book is full of unintentional silliness like this in the middle of what is supposed to be a grand adventure. But this is, after all, a book aimed purely at young readers who are devoted to Minecraft: the book’s relationship to the game is strictly unofficial and unauthorized by the game’s manufacturer, but The Elementia Chronicles is clearly written by someone who is strongly attached to the game, for others who are equally attracted to it. As such, it will please those looking for a more-of-the-same continuation of the first book, Quest for Justice; and since this second book ends with a bit of a cliffhanger, fans will be looking forward to the upcoming conclusion of the trilogy, which will be called Herobrine’s Message.