I read the first Kingdom Keepers book a while ago. When I first learned of the series I was very excited about the premise and really looked forward to diving in. While I enjoyed the first book, I wasn't as excited as I thought I might have been and so I delayed moving on to book two.
In the first book, we get to know a group of kids-turned-celebrities thanks to Disney technology. The kids are "DHIs." They have been motion- and audio-captured into specialized software to produce Holographic images of them throughout the parks of Walt Disney World where they act as virtual tour guides. We learn that an old Imagineer named Wayne used the DHI project to create the "Kingdom Keepers." When the kids sleep, they "awake" as their DHI selves inside the Disney parks. Once there, they are tasked with taking on the Disney villains and other Overtakers. The villains have some unknown overarching plot. At the very least, the kids know they are up to no good and so they follow Wayne's lead in working to stop them. All of that background is what really got me interested in the series and the first book. And it's a very fun premise and is actually executed pretty well.
Looking back, I decided that part of my disappointment was that I was reading the book more from an adult perspective than I should have done. This is a book for children, starring children and taking place in a Disney Theme Park (or a world of parks, as it were). My gripes about the book were largely areas where my adult-self had a hard time suspending disbelief and just enjoying the tale.
So, with that in mind, I jumped into Kingdom Keepers II: Disney at Dawn. This book picks up shortly after the first one. The DHI kids are on a parade when they catch sight of some friends/accomplices from book one. They learn that Maleficent is trying to escape and cause trouble again. In a rush to try and stop her, one of the group is captured and Maleficent escapes. We also find out that Wayne is in hiding and only able to interact minimally with the kids. In many ways, they are on their own and in even more danger than before.
I definitely don't want to spoil the plot points for you, but I will say that I really enjoyed some of the twisty elements added to this book. Most of the adventure this time happens in Animal Kingdom which is the Disney World park I haven't yet visited (it wasn't yet built last time I went). So I didn't have a first-hand point of reference for a lot of the events that happened. I had wondered while reading the first book if part of the enjoyment might be lost without knowing first hand the layout of the Magic Kingdom. In reading book two and running around with the kids in Animal Kingdom, I did find myself a little disoriented at times, but mostly I felt like the author did a good job describing the environment and helping me understand the layout and the structure of things.
I still had to fight my adult suspension of disbelief as the kids ran around the park especially since they spent more time in the park during operating hours this time sneaking backstage and inside exhibits. Even with the help they received, I still struggled with this a little bit.
Pushing my hesitations aside, I let myself drift back down to my ten-year-old self and had a ton of fun running through the park with the kids trying to solve the mystery. I felt like this book ratcheted up the intensity of the mystery, the suspense and the adventure. The stakes were higher and the obstacles were bigger. The kids had to be more creative in their plans and more daring in their method. Overall, everything was more adventurous.
As I neared the end of the book I was worried. There were only a small amount of pages left and still a TON of things the kids had to resolve to get the "happy ending" they were seeking. I was anticipating similar closure to the end of book one. What I did not anticipate was that this book acts as a bridge to future books. While there was a certain degree of closure at the end of this book, there were also a number of major loose threads and cliffhangers. Not only cliffhangers from plot points slowly worked on through the novel, but even those existing cliffhangers were propelled far off the edge of the cliff to make them hang with as much intensity as possible.
Even with that said, this book was not SOLELY a set up for book three. While it did reveal a lot of new elements and provide a lot of building blocks for the next book, it also has a strong stand-alone element in the character and plot development that's self-contained. It's a fun, creative story.
Can I whole-heartedly recommend this book? To kids who are adventure minded with a penchant towards hi-tech and/or Disney…definitely. To adults? Maybe. Just remember to leave your adult criticality behind and you should have a lot of fun with this. Let yourself go and remember the adventures from when you were a kid.
3 out of 5 stars
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