Thursday, April 26, 2007

Landon Snow

Title: Landon Snow and the Auctor’s Riddle, Landon Snow, Book 1

Author: R. K. Mortenson

Genre: Mid-grade fantasy/humor

Chapter 1 of Landon Snow and the Auctor’s Riddle:

The leaves were already turning color and beginning to fall when the Snow family made their trek from Minneapolis north to Button Up, Minnesota. Landon, who was about to turn eleven years old, especially looked forward to the trip for two reasons. Well, two and a half, really. One: he got to see his grandfather, Grandpa Karl, who told wonderful stories and loved books. Two: Grandpa Karl would take him and anyone else who was interested to visit the oldest and largest privately funded library in the state. This was the button Up Library, known to locals as the BUL. And the half reason Landon liked to visit his grandparents? Grandma Alice and her cooking. Especially her lemon bars. Mm, they were good.

Landon had forgotten that his mother’s SUV was in the shop getting fixed, so when his two younger sisters called for window seats as they raced past him to the car, he stood momentarily stunned. This meant he would be stuck between them in the backseat of their dad’s small sedan. It also meant there would be no DVD movie to watch. Landon would have been happy looking at a book for the three-and-a-half-hour drive. Except for one reason: reading in the car gave him a terrible headache.

Landon sighed. This was going to be a long trip.

A tunnel behind a bookshelf leads eleven-year-old Landon Snow to a riddle and a journey to find its meaning.

The Writing: For me, the writing was okay. I found it very difficult to get into the story, even though Landon Snow is likeable and there’s some wonderful moments of humor. But the first half of the book lacks any clear direction, motive, or antongonist—that is, the conflict seems poorly defined. And no conflict, no story.

While I understand this is likely due to this story’s themes (see “The Story”), it makes it easy for me, the reader, to put the book down and walk away. In addition, everything from cover art to the tone of the book to the themes seems to indicate this was intended as a Christian come back to a Series of Unfortunate Events.

A personal pet peeve of mine, I hate it when Christians write a Christian come back to something secular—basically because the imitation is usually poorer, as it is the case with Landon Snow and A Series of Unfortunate Events. For example, the narrator’s voice in A Series of Unfortunate Events grabs you and doesn’t let go from the first sentence. Landon Snow’s narrator is interesting, but doesn’t hold your attention in the same way.

In addition, in children’s fiction, this imitation often creates a preachy voice because, I’m sorry, no matter how hard you try to hide it, you’re writing to teach your reader why your way is better or truer or whatever. I don’t care for that in fiction as an adult, and I definitely didn’t care for it as a child.

The Story: From the first chapters, Mr. Mortenson makes it very clear that the theme of the story is that life is not coincidence, the very antithesis of Lemony Snicket’s series. Therefore, to prove life isn’t an accident, Mr. Mortenson starts the book off with a series of bizarre, seemingly coincidental events, which as I mention under “The Writing” plays havoc with the story structure. But it gets the point across, and he hammers the point in several more times before the rather didactic end. So in content, this is very “safe” reading. Perhaps too safe.

Summary: The writing works, but the didactic nature and the slow beginning doesn’t make for the greatest read. Yes, this book is “safer” to hand the mid-grade readers than A Series of Unfortunate events, if they must have something. But my recommendation is that you bypass both series and find something both edifying and entertaining.

Rate: 2.9 stars out of 5

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