Atlantis Rising by T.A. Barron
I gave Atlantis Rising by T.A. Barron a pretty fair shot I’d say—200 of its 370 pages, but eventually I just had to give it up. And I wasn’t alone in that, as my wife and 13-yr-old son gave up far, far quicker. As usual with books I didn’t care for, and especially for books I didn’t finish (a rarity for me), this will be a relatively short review, as I don’t like to belabor the point.
The problems began immediately, with the introduction of the main character (Promi), a sassy and spunky orphan street thief with a heart of gold who is good with a knife (though not good enough to avoid trouble with a corrupt and brutal priest), that ends up in a chase scene where Promi gets to toss off barbs at the chasing guards while performing acrobatic feats of derring do. Now, I’ve always been one to lets tropes be tropes — we’re working in genre here after all — so long as the author does something special with them. But this book just lacked any sort of spark to differentiate the same old from the same old.
Soon, Promi is meeting with a wise old stranger who gives him a history lesson (not the first example of clumsily transparent exposition, nor the last) and then a prophecy, and then he’s meeting with another wise old stranger who gives him the gift of magic, along with a small sarcastic non-human companion, and then he’s meeting with another stranger, this one from the magical forest filled with fairies and centaurs, and then he has a quest for a magical gem and to save all magic. Well. I said I’d be brief.
The plot was muddled, filled with logic gaps, trite. The characters were stock, especially the mustache-twirling corrupt priest with his inhuman evil sidekick (seen only as a shadow of course). Shifts in action and character behavior are abrupt, unexplained, or clumsily explained. There were several moments that simply defied logic/plausibility, such as when the priest and his shadow companion somehow “surprise” hundreds of fairies and steal their magic, this despite the fact that the priest has been monologue-ing the whole time he nears them, and the fact that he is literally in the middle of a “grassy meadow,” and the fact that he is near enough to see not only the fairies (smaller than the human thumb) but also the tiniest details of what they are wearing. Yet somehow they neither see nor hear nor smell him.
The book is a middle-grade book, for ten and up, but that’s no excuse for that sort of writing (even a ten-year-old is going to wonder how the fairies are missing that big ‘ole priest standing there in a wide open meadow close enough to count their antennae). Sometimes, I do wonder if a book is just too much aimed at a young audience for me to fairly review, but given my 13-year-old’s reaction (he gave up around chapter three), I’d say I’m pretty safe on this call. There’s too much good middle-grade and YA out there to recommend this new series (next year’s follow-up is Atlantis in Peril). To end on a good note, I’ll give you two alternatives: one classic and one contemporary. Lloyd Alexander’s PRYDAIN series is a deeply beloved series that has earned twice-over all its acclaim and awards. More recently, Matthew Kirby’s middle grade books Icefall and The Clockwork Three show you exactly how good writing can be, let alone writing aimed at a young audience.
Good to see my instincts were proven right about this one. Thanks for the warning, Bill. I will follow my intuition and skip this one.
You were wiser than I, Mari-On Kenobi . . .