April 14, 2016
(+++) GRANDLY ADVENTURING
Seven Wonders No. 5: The Legend of the Rift. By Peter Lerangis. Harper. $17.99.
Seven Wonders No. 4: The Curse of the King. By Peter Lerangis. Harper. $6.99.
Seven Wonders Journals: The Promise. By Peter Lerangis. Harper. $2.99.
Wing & Claw #1: Forest of Wonders. By Linda Sue Park. Harper. $12.99.
Preteen heroes are everywhere. Whenever one world-spanning fantastic adventure comes to an end, there is another there, reliably, to replace it. And whenever one group of good guys (they always come in a group) wins its way to success after surmounting insurmountable odds, it is time to form a new group and send that one on its way per aspera ad astra. So Peter Lerangis’ completion of Seven Wonders not only gives readers of the series the satisfaction of having seen young people of their own age accomplish great things, but also clears the way for a chance to read new series cut from the same cloth, such as Linda Sue Park’s Wing & Claw. But first, a look at what happens in Seven Wonders. Readers can be forgiven for having expected a seven-book series here. Seven wonders, you know? And although the series takes place entirely in modern times, its whole premise involves the long-ago days of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World – of which the Colossus of Rhodes, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and the Mausoleum at Helicarnassus were the focus of the first three entries: one ancient wonder per book. The fourth book, The Curse of the King, first published last year and now available in paperback, also focuses on a single ancient wonder: the statue of Zeus at Olympia. But although the setting is new, the basic plot here is identical to that of the earlier novels. Friends Jack, Cass and Aly are searching for “seven magic Atlantean orbs hidden in the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World – six of which don’t exist anymore.” They are also trying to figure out why the fourth member of their group, Marco, has switched sides, working with the evil Massa organization that seeks the same orbs (called Loculi) for its own nefarious purposes. Oh – and the searchers are going to die soon. At least that is the underlying concept here: they all have mutant genes that give them superpowers but will kill them by age 14, and their only hope for a cure is to gather the Loculi and discover the objects’ secrets, saving the world into the bargain.
The Curse of the King is the weakest book in the whole series, in large part because Lerangis decides to have the statue of Zeus come alive and go on a rampage early in the narrative – while talking entirely in phrases drawn from TV shows and ads. Thus, we have the most powerful of the old Greek gods, the conqueror of the Titans, the wielder of thunderbolts, saying, in capital letters: “TO THE MOOOON, ALIIICE!” “COWABUNGAAAA!” “I THINK THIS IS THE BEGINNING OF A BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP.” “I’LL GET YOU, YOU SKWEWY WABBIT!” This is so over-the-top as to be embarrassing, but perhaps not to the intended audience of Seven Wonders, which may know little, if anything, about The Honeymooners, the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the film Casablanca, or the Bugs Bunny cartoons. Still, it seems that the newly animated (or reanimated) statue of Zeus would collapse from humiliation under the weight of this sort of dialogue. Anyway, the friends get the Loculus of Strength from the statue, but soon find themselves in the hands of the Massa, whose dialogue is about at the level of that given to Zeus: “Massa strong. …No more froufrou Harvard-bricky college-la-la-la heads in clouds.” But enough of this: by the end of this book, reliable Aly has been kidnapped by King Uhla’ar and taken to Atlantis; he has also made off with the Loculus of Strength. Aly must be rescued! But first a word from – well, not a sponsor, but the latest and last of the Seven Wonders Journals. Promoted as book 4.5, this very thin volume goes back in time to explain, in novella form, just what happened to Atlantis all those ages ago because of the battles between brother princes Karai and Massarym, who are – what a surprise – 14 years old. It is their entirely typical rivalry (Karai wants to protect the magic of Atlantis while Massarym wants it all for himself) that leads to the entirely typical result of Atlantis’ destruction, except that it is not really destroyed, because then where would the modern Seven Wonders be? In any case, like the previous Seven Wonders Journals, this is an unnecessary expansion of the basic story that will be of interest to readers who just cannot get enough of the heroic exploits of Jack, Cass and Aly.
And to return to those exploits: in The Legend of the Rift, the heroic preteens have to visit the remaining ancient wonders and hence avoid the necessity of a seven-book series – although it is a bit surprising that Lerangis, who is highly prolific, chose not to milk this sequence even further. In this book there is this rift, see, guarded by the usual monstrous creature, which the noble-but-doomed friends cannot defeat unless they can recover the remaining Loculi. So they must first battle Artemis’ army at the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, then outsmart (or outthink, or just escape from) a beast at the Lighthouse of Alexandria, and then – well, suffice it to say that there is, as there must be, a final confrontation in Atlantis itself, and since there must be a satisfactory resolution of all the points of this far-flung fable, Lerangis pulls out of his capacious hat one of the oldest tricks in the book, or rather two of them: time travel and the “it was all a dream, or was it?” trope. Lerangis tries to keep up some slapstick even at the climax of the whole series, as when Marco, who is back to being one of the good guys, plans to use his belt to, it seems, strangle Uhla’ar, but unfortunately, when Marco takes the belt off to weaponize it, his pants fall down. Ha, ha. More amusingly, Lerangis picks up another trope, the self-referential one, and has Jack’s father tell him that he makes up wonderful stories: “‘You will do this for a living someday. I know it. An author of a children’s adventure series!’” Ha, ha, again. Actually, that particular bit of humor is pretty neat, but it comes so close to the end of The Legend of the Rift that it goes nowhere – unless you count where it goes in Lerangis’ mind, which is, undoubtedly, already marching onward into some other set of unbelievabilities about heroic preteens.
Young readers unwilling to wait for the next Lerangis offering can move immediately into something analogous from Linda Sue Park. Park is not quite as prolific as Lerangis, but she is, like him, a reliable producer of preteen adventure material; in fact, both contributed to the ubiquitous The 39 Clues series (Park has written one novel for it and Lerangis has written three, plus a novella). Park is a more stylish writer than Lerangis and more inclined to look beyond action scenes to some degree of personality development, although not too much – after all, these books are about quests that lead to finding oneself, not about introspection. Park uses less humor than Lerangis does and is inclined to offer a greater sense of seriousness, a quality that Lerangis’ books, for all their derring-do, tend to lack. These are generalizations, of course, but the differences between the authors, as well as their similarities, are quite apparent in the contrast between Lerangis’ Seven Wonders and Park’s new series, Wing & Claw. Park’s first Wing & Claw book introduces a family of potion makers and healers living in the forest of the book’s title. The central character is Raffa; he and his cousin, Garith, both work in their parents’ apothecaries. The two cousins go into the forest together – the place is considered dangerous – in search of a vine to use for a healing potion for an injured bat. Raffa makes the potion and cures the bat, Echo – and discovers that a side effect of the medicine is that the bat can now talk to him. His parents do not believe this, though, and in any case, they are more worried about having been asked to move closer to the center of power of the realm to help the government. They turn the request down – but Garith and his father agree, and relocate. The separation of the cousins sets up one thread of the book and the series. Another is set up when Raffa makes a second potion from the same vine and discovers just how dangerous the plant is. He decides, not terribly logically but fairly understandably, to run away from home and go to the larger settlement to warn Garith. As he travels, Raffa meets the friends who will become this book’s preteen hero group: bear-tamer Kuma and kitchen worker Trixen. The three eventually get to see the ruling Chancellor, and she tells them about plans she has to train animals by using the communication potion Raffa has created. But of course there is much more than that going on – all this is only the setup portion of the first book of a planned trilogy – and it soon turns out that there is evil afoot, and Raffa will have to learn how deep it runs and what he can do to counter it. Forest of Wonders gives more background on the characters than on the land they inhabit, Obsidia: there is a map in the book, but most places on it do not figure in this story – presumably they will gain importance later. There are some thoughtful elements here involving the rights of humans and animals and the definition of good and evil in both (Echo is clearly good, but crows and owls are not). The pacing, while not slow, is deliberate, and there is an expansiveness about the story that will please young readers looking for something broadly conceived and involving rather than something cinematic and page-turningly paced in the Lerangis mode. Both off these authors have a firm grasp on the sort of multi-character quest of discovery that is de rigueur in novels for ages 8-12; thus, their books are very similar at the core, even though they are quite different in their world-creation and the speed with which their heroes chase their destinies.