January 10, 2008


Children of the Lamp, Book 4: The Day of the Djinn Warriors. By P.B. Kerr. Orchard Books/Scholastic. $17.99.

Wicked Dead #2: Torn. By Stefan Petrucha and Thomas Pendleton. HarperTeen. $7.99.

      Series creators have two choices: to follow a formula or to make up their own. Those who establish their own theme and variations have a harder job, but their books are more likely to continue giving readers pleasure. P.B. Kerr, a well-known British thriller writer whose Children of the Lamp series is his first for young readers, has not hesitated to create something new and follow where it leads (or, more accurately, to lead it in interesting directions). The fourth book of the series, The Day of the Djinn Warriors, contains many of the same elements and most of the same characters as the three earlier books. Its focus remains on the Djinn twins, John and Philippa Gaunt, who are growing surer of their powers and being exposed to greater and greater dangers in every book. Each Children of the Lamp novel is about a world-spanning journey, and each quest involves some sort of rescue or rescues. But the books have not grown stale, because Kerr paces them so well, complicates their plots so neatly, and laces them with wry humor so effectively. The Day of the Djinn Warriors opens with the twins’ human father looking as old as Methuselah because of the unintended effects of a curse placed on him – with the best of intentions – by their mother. Their mother has problems of her own – in fact, this time the twins’ mission is to rescue her from her apparent destiny as the Blue Djinn of Babylon. But there is much more going on here: museums around the world are being robbed, there has been an outbreak of hauntings, and the ancient terra-cotta warriors of China (which really exist) have been possessed by evil spirits and may become a threat to the whole world. Yes, the plot is overdone, but Kerr himself knows that, which is why he regularly treats readers to lighten-up dialogue, as when one character is rescued from a sideshow of sorts: “‘But I look so pale. And what about those shadows under my eyes? I look like a vampire.’ ‘What do you expect? …You haven’t seen the light of day for twelve years. Anyone would look a bit Gothic after what you’ve been through.’” Kerr’s books are fun and fast-paced, but there are subtleties to them, and care in their construction, that continue to place these adventures well above the formulaic.

      Stefan Petrucha and Thomas Pendleton follow an easier path. Wicked Dead is a teen-terror series with a rather silly framing tale: each book is a story told by the ghost of a girl; the ghosts are trapped in the remains of Lockwood Orphanage for unknown reasons, and storytelling may eventually be the key to their release into the hereafter. That’s a pretty clunky plot device, and the tales themselves lurch around a bit, too. The second book, Torn, gets the same (+++) rating as the first, Lurker, largely on the strength of its super-quick pacing and its straightforward tapping into typical teen fantasies. In Torn the fantasy is of a successful band whose leader, Devin, seems to be close to having it all: a great song he has just written, a gorgeous girlfriend, being the center of attention at his high school, and so on. But then a member of the band is killed – viciously. And then Devin starts wondering who, or what, could have done it. And then he wonders about his song. And then he wonders if he really made the song up after all… And eventually there’s a particularly silly knitting-together of all the threads, and a return to the orphanage to prepare for the next book, which will be called Snared. This series is unlikely to snare readers looking for anything thought-provoking – but its purpose is, after all, only to provoke fear. At that, it is at least moderately and intermittently successful.

No comments:

Post a Comment