Friday, May 24, 2013

Book Review - The Colossus Rises

The Colossus Rises is the first of, presumably, seven books following the adventures of Jack McKinley and other "special" teenagers. How are these kids special? Well, apparently they have a hidden gene that unlocks special amazing and magical abilities inside them but also acts as a ticking time bomb to their own death in their mid-teens. This gene has been passed on through generations and links them to the highly advanced and magical inhabitants of the ancient city of Atlantis. The book series "Seven Wonders" refers to the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World with the "wonder" from the first book being the Colossus of Rhodes.

From a high level summary the premise is reminiscent of Riordan's Percy Jackson or Kane Chronicles series or even similar to the Harry Potter storyline. Just as Percy Jackson or the Kane family are related to the mythical gods and goddesses from ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt, the Seven Wonders series involves kids who are descended from the mythical Atlanteans. This book has a feel that is definitely similar in some ways to the tone and feeling of the Percy Jackson series but it is also definitely distinct and stands on its own.

With The Colossus Rises, we are introduced to Jack on a normal but problematic school day. Within hours, he finds himself passed out and being attended to by the school nurse but quickly a new set of doctors arrive on the scene and he blacks out only to awaken in a strange facility called Karai Institute on an island in the middle of nowhere. Jack rightly assumes that he's been kidnapped and he is highly skeptical of the facility director Professor Bhegad. A group of other kids similarly 'kidnapped' try to help convince Jack of the reality of their genetic "disease" though as time goes on it's clear that the other kids aren't entirely happy with being kept in the dark by Bhegad and his cronies.

Each of the kids have their own super talents and abilities as a result of their genetic disorder. Aly is the only girl in the group and she is highly technical and super in touch with technology or anything electrical. Marco is the super athlete who is graced with amazing physical prowess…not "superhuman" per se (he can't fly), but he is definitely stronger and has greater endurance than even your average super athlete. Cass is blessed with an instant photographic memory and high intelligence which make him a super navigator and great problem solver. Jack spends large chunks of the book trying to determine his own talent. Having him as the narrator and central character in the book serves well to help relate to children and teenagers who are reading this book and perhaps trying to figure out their own place in the world. Jack is smart and quirky but he's never quite sure of himself or what he should do next. As the book progresses, it's clear that his talent is that of helping glue the group together and act as a sort of leader or innovator. He also alternates between being a bit reckless and headstrong and being a little scared and overly cautious. This also feels realistic since it grounds him and keeps him from always rushing thoughtlessly ahead and not always pulling the group back.

The plot focuses on trying to help "cure" the genetic oddity that each of the kids posses. Professor Bhegad has a treatment which slows the fatal effects but cannot fully stop the progress towards death. He theorizes that if the kids can find the seven magical "Loculi" scattered around the world, he may be able to cure them. Even as the Kurai Institute hunts for the Loculi, another group is seeking out these magical items with their own agenda…to use their power and take over the world. Thus begins a race against time as the kids try to find the Loculi before they each die but also to stop the global disaster that will occur if they don't find them.

The writing is whimsical and fun. It felt like a younger read than the early Percy Jackson or Harry Potter novels, but that may just be me projecting the darker and heavier novels later in each of those series. The language and tone should definitely be accessible to a middle grader, maybe even down as young as 7 or 8 depending on their reading level. There is a lot of very casual, conversational language as Jack describes some of the crazy characters and ridiculous situations. The lighthearted narrative should help keep kids interested even during the lengthier descriptions of the science and history leading up to the plot.

The simple writing is quick and accessible and makes for an easy, page-turning read. To a degree it felt like some of the plot went a little too quickly for me. There were short stretches of exposition or description and then suddenly the plot would jump ahead by leaps and bounds very quickly. I think this breakneck pace is great especially for keeping kids interested and involved, but I worry that perhaps it loses some depth of plot or information as a result. I didn't feel confused or anything like that. I was just left wanting a little meat to the story.

Overall this is a fun, kid-friendly adventure and a promising start to a new fantastic series. The quick pace and fun writing should appeal to younger readers and up through middle graders and teens. Adults may find some of the storytelling a bit light but it's definitely an enjoyable read and a good way to share reading time with your kids. I look forward to learning more about the Loculi and finding out how Jack and his friends find the other Wonders of the World.

3.5 out of 5 stars

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Brian Miller said...

cool...interesting story oldest would probably like it....add it to the son and i are reading dragonlance which is a series i grew up reading starting in middle school...

Okie said...

Nice. Dragonlance is good fun.