October 31, 2019


The Ghost Network, Book Two: Reboot. By I.I. Davidson. Andrews McMeel. $8.99.

Khorasan Archives, Book Three: The Blue Eye. By Ausma Zehanat Khan. Harper Voyager. $18.99.

     The breathless pacing and magical thinking that pervaded the first book of The Ghost Network trilogy, Activate, are very much present and consistently applied as well in the sequel, Reboot. I.I. Davidson (pen name of Scottish author Gillian Philip) here offers preteens and young teenagers novels in which, as usual in books for this age group, the adults are ineffectual compared to the young people and the world at large is filled with evils that only the carefully balanced team of young heroes can overcome. The four 12-year-olds around whom The Ghost Network revolves – the largely interchangeable John, Slack, Akane and Salome – are hackers, not practitioners of magic, but the computer-focused elements here are handled in much the way magical ones are in other series: these young hackers just make things happen, generally very quickly and always just in time to move from plot point to plot point. There is no acknowledgment whatsoever of the extremely time-consuming and difficult elements of actual code writing and code breaking: here the simple waving of a magic wand (or magic keyboard) is enough to get done whatever needs doing. And what needs doing in Reboot is the restoration to power of John’s father, Mikael Laine, previously thought dead by John and his mother but in fact just hiding out to escape the clutches of the might-as-well-be-cackling-and-mustache-twirling evildoer, Roy Lykos. Lykos delenda est might be the cry of the Ghost Network members if they knew Latin: Lykos must be destroyed! Easier said (even in Latin) than done, however, since Lykos is extremely well-connected in that pesky adult world out there, and everybody, everybody, thinks he is a great man and a major contributor to society and the good of the world when in fact he is a supremely evil con artist and manipulator who is determined to bend the Ghost Network and other people and technologies to his own nefarious ends. Lykos is so powerful that it is only when he fortuitously commits a murder that one of the young people not only witnesses but also captures on a cell-phone camera (yes, this is the central plot point) that it becomes possible to bring him down. And so everything ends happily, or would if the Ghost Network and Mikael Laine did not have a surprising blind spot: the two preteen minions who helped Lykos with everything in Activate are left alone during and after the celebration of Mikael’s return to power at the Wolf’s Den school. They are untouched, unwatched and unrepentant by the end of Reboot, and sure enough, there’s dirty work afoot! They are going to conspire with the now-imprisoned Lykos (to whom they can easily reach out through magic, or rather through super-powerful but easy-to-do computing) to stir things up all over again in the final book of the trilogy! But now they will be facing more than the four original members of the Ghost Network – whose group gets its name from the fact that all suffered extremely severe accidents in earlier life, accidents that should have been fatal, that were fatal until Mikael, a brilliant surgeon, rescued them by using experimental methods that essentially turned their human brains into computers that store far more information than any human brain possibly can on its own. In the upcoming concluding book, the baddies will also have to cope with a boy named Zhou Zhou, introduced in Reboot, who possesses a more-advanced but less-controllable form of whatever the original four contain, and who therefore has even more-exceptional powers and abilities – for instance, he has a habit of looking at things from a distance and those things then, well, explode. Nothing in The Ghost Network makes a lick of sense, but it is not really supposed to: it is simply a super-speedy, cinematically paced adventure tale unconnected to anything in reality and allowing its target audience a whole set of spills, chills and thrills.

     The intended audience is adults in Ausma Zehanat Khan’s Khorasan Archives novels, whose pacing is much, much slower and whose planned scope is much, much larger, spanning four novels rather than three. The third of the four, The Blue Eye, is certainly true to the style and spirit of the first two, continuing the quest of Arian, First Oralist of Hira, and her companion, Sinnia, to overthrow the anti-intellectual and hyper-violent Talisman (yes, sounds like Taliban) and assert feminine superiority over male-dominated crudity and viciousness (which is not to say that the female warriors are nonviolent). The Blue Eye builds directly on The Bloodprint and The Black Khan, the first two novels in the sequence, and in fact begins as Ashfall, the Black Khan’s capital, is under siege by the Talisman, whose barbarity gets the usual quasi-religious defense: “‘To spread the message of the One across these lands is an act of justice. …The One has judged. We have come to carry out the judgment.’” Sure, they have. They are opposed in their depredations by the Black Khan and by Daniyar, Arian’s lover; and while the siege of Ashfall continues, Arian and Sinnia are elsewhere, seeking something called the Sana Codex, whose content may help them overcome the Talisman. The two adventures occur more or less in parallel, or at least in back-and-forth narration, and matters are complicated by the fact that alliances change constantly and names do as well: here as in the prior books, Khan gives multiple titles to the same characters, making recurring references to the four-page “Cast of Characters” and eight-page glossary at the back of the book a necessity for readers. It is the descriptive passages, redolent of old tales of the Middle East, that make much of the Khorasan Archives series worth ploughing through; but make no mistake, the narrative bogs down and again, and it can be hard wading through the discussions of historical and religious arcana – germane though they may be – to get on with the action. The underlying premise is that the Companions of Hira preserve the magicoreligious sacred heritage of a scripture known as the Claim, which is generally known only through fragments but supposedly exists in complete form in an artifact called the Bloodprint. It is that item that the Talisman’s leader, the One-Eyed Preacher, is determined to destroy for a variety of spurious reasons that all come down, eventually, to a hunger for power. There is all sorts of magic in The Blue Eye, as in prior books, in addition to all the arguments and discussions of scriptural matters and the identity confusion and the alliance-shifting and the battles. Certainly readers who made it through the first two books will want to find out what happens next, but even those who enjoyed the earlier volumes may decide that by now, this series has gone on and on and on at greater length than is really necessary. The planned finale will have many threads to knit together before, inevitably, the evil of the Talisman is extinguished; hopefully Khan will handle the conclusion of this discursive tetralogy with sufficient skill and narrative satisfaction to make it seem that the long, long journey was worthwhile.

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