Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Book Review - Power Play (Kingdom Keepers 4)

I dove into book 4 of the Kingdom Keeper series expecting some fun but not really anticipating many differences from the previous books. I generally enjoyed the first three books but was left hoping for something more. The writing is fairly simplistic and definitely geared towards kids. I acknowledged and overlooked that. Where I was left wanting more was in terms of the plot. The concept is actually pretty cool and has a lot of potential but there are times that it feels a bit strained. A large part of that is due to the imaginative yet complex technologies that allow the kids to transport into the parks. Even more than strains in the plot elements, I felt like plot elements were missing. In my mind, I felt like there was a lot of potential that just wasn't being used. I suspect that the omission was partly a conscious choice to keep the plot simpler and to gradually introduce the elements, but I really felt like there were some lost opportunities. That background aside, I opened the book with the expectation of a fun, lighthearted adventure and that's what I got.

The book starts out by quickly suggesting that the stakes have changed or, at the very least, that new elements are in place that have changed the rules of the game. In the first few pages, the kids spot some of the "Overtakers" in the real world running around and interacting with other humans. I was a little confused as to why this was so shocking. In the previous books, the kids had interacted with Maleficent and Chernabog in "the real world" so I wasn't sure why it was such a big deal to see other characters among mere mortals. The difference came in the fact that the Overtakers weren't just staying in the parks. They were first seen in Downtown Disney (which I felt was acceptable) but then they were seen at various places throughout the city. The kids also made the leap (somehow) and decided that the Overtakers had created their own DHI Server (so they could create their own holograms).

Even more threatening though was the fact that the Overtakers had begun recruiting other human kids to help them out. The Kingdom Keepers started to notice some strange behavior from other kids at school. As they investigated, they found that the Evil Queen had cast spells on them and had them working for the Overtakers. Others seemed to have joined of their own free will. In any case, the Kingdom Keepers now had to be on their toes wherever they were. They also found that they couldn't be sure who to trust since the Evil Queen could cast a spell even on a member of the Kingdom Keepers and get them to spy for her or carry out other schemes. Everything pointed to the Overtakers getting more powerful and the Kingdom Keepers were woefully uninformed and unprepared for whatever was happening.

Fortunately, the Keepers aren't entirely without help. First, they find out that Wayne's sister has been arrested and they arrange to bail her out and see what she knows. She is wary about how much she wants to tell them because she doesn't want to put them in any extra danger and she also isn't sure who to trust. As the story continues, Wayne also manages to reach out and communicate with the Keepers to give them advice and direction. Wayne's communication and assistance felt even more deus ex machina to me in the sense that he shows up just when the kids are at the end of the rope and have no idea what to do or even what they need to look for. It bothers me a little that he is able to influence the story so greatly while being totally sequestered and really not a part of the direct action. Still, his input is kept vague and limited enough that it isn't an all powerful fix for all the troubles. In any case, he sets the kids on the right direction and they go in search of the Overtaker's DHI Server and source of power.

As I mentioned in my review of the first book, I was bummed that there weren't any "good" characters helping the kids out in their adventures. This seemed like a huge omission and one that could have a big payoff in terms of enjoyment. Finally here in book 4 we get to meet additional "bad" characters (who seem to be playing a "neutral" role) as well as a few "good" characters who will serve as allies to the kids. As the kids race through the parks, they (finally) start interacting with characters like Ariel, Pluto, Minnie Mouse and Mulan. I was excited at their appearance but was still a little disheartened at their actions and characteristics. I thought it was great that they were there to help out the Keepers. But to me, they didn't feel or act the way I was really expecting. They still just sort of felt like bit-rate players in the background. Where Maleficent, Chernabog, the Evil Queen and other Overtakers had some clear motivation and sense of action, the "hero" characters (and even the "neutral" characters like Frollo and Shan-Yu) don't even the depth of character as their on-screen selfs, let alone characters who are fighting against evil for survival. They did take some risks, but they didn't feel as alive or animated (characteristic, not 'literal' animation a la Disney) to the cause. They do tell the kids that their leader, Mickey Mouse, is missing. So maybe they'll get more interesting as time goes on and as we find Mickey.

I won't spoil the plot of the book except to say that, like its predecessor, it ends without fully resolving the problems facing the kids. In fact, it seems to create more problems to unravel. This time, however, the kids already know where the next adventure will take place. In the book, Jess has a vision that shows the captain of the Disney Dream cruise ship.

As with the previous books, I had fun and enjoyed the overall creativity and fun of the story. I'm glad to see that we're finally getting some more of the characters involved though they still don't feel quite "real" to me, especially when compared with the Overtakers. I did like the added tension of allowing the Overtakers to leave the parks as well as having them recruit humans to help the Overtaker cause. I suspect the natural trajectory will be for other kids to help out the Keepers in future books. Still definitely not high literature but a fun Disney-packed adventure for kids and kids at heart.

3 out of 5 stars

View all of my reviews on Goodreads.com


Brian Miller said...

so it sounds a bit hard to follow...and the non pay off on big characters def justifies the rating...maybe just a bit better than the predescesors

Okie said...

Yeah...it's getting more complex and interesting though at times that makes it a little obtuse. I'm still enjoying it generally but keep hoping it will get better. :)