Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Hunter Brown and the Secret of the Shadow

Title: Hunter Brown and the Secret of the Shadow

Series: The Codebearers Series #1

Authors: The Miller Brothers (Christopher and Allan)

Genre: Tween (10-14) Alternate Reality/Fantasy

Excerpt from “The Worst Last Day,” Chapter 1 of Hunter Brown and the Secret of the Shadow:

It was the last day of school and I was running for my life. My friends and I had just pulled off one of the best pranks ever. It’s not like we were trying to get in trouble, or anything, it’s just that we were determined to get even with the school bully before summer break. After all, Cranton had gone out of his way more than once to make my life miserable this year so it wasn’t as if he didn’t deserve it. Besides, the last day of school was the perfect time for payback.

Stretch and I had planned the whole thing out weeks in advance. We called it Project: Fireball, an elaborate scheme that required hi-jacking a bag of brownies from my sister’s bake sale and modifying them with a bottle of Stu’s Unreasonably Wicked Hot Sauce. All we needed was a decoy.

A prank gone wrong lands a middle school boy with a magical book and a heap of trouble.

Craft: The writing of Hunter Brown is fast-paced and quick-witted.

Filled with action this novel rushes head-long into danger and adventure. Breathers are more like gulps of air before being plunged back into the latest complications, and swordfights and an aerial chase adds to the excitement. Among all this, a razor wit brings smiles and laughter.

Yet character connections were lacking for me. It wasn’t that the characters were flat. Quite the opposite. The cast is varied and colorful and the protagonists are well fleshed out. But I had a hard time cheering for the main character.

Part, I’m sure, is personal taste. He’s just not my favorite type of character. However, it’s more than that, I think. I missed having that redeemable quality that makes me want to follow this character. Instead, I found an egotistical brat with no respect for rules or authority and an unhealthy interest in magic. While some of this was necessary for plot and character growth, the plotting was almost not enough to overcome my revulsion.

Content: Hunter Brown has many themes in it. Perhaps too many. Every chapter seemed to have a new lesson to teach and while many of these lessons were shown (making them more effective), they remained exactly that—lessons. The problem with stories written to make a point is that few readers, especially young readers, enjoy sitting on them.

For other elements of concern, there is some violence, including a jolting death of a beloved character, and some magical elements. The former is done fairly well, with little seen in detail. For the latter, the difference and source of the power is distinguished. Nonetheless I wished the main protagonist would have bee made more aware of the true difference, as he still treated the good like some magic you could wield at whim (even though the story makes clear it couldn’t be).

Summary: My impression of Hunter Brown and the Secret of the Shadow is of a book that tries too hard. It tries too hard to grab your attention, to connect the reader with a hero through his non-heroic actions, to make a point. So while the story was interesting and well-plotted, it lacked the spark of a story I can’t wait to tell everyone about. Nonetheless, it has much action and may connect with tween boys.

Rating: Craft--2.0, Content--3.0, Overall--3.4 stars out of 5

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