The Children of the Lost is David Whitley’s follow-up to last year’s The Midnight Charter, which I reviewed as a weak three: strong in ideas but weaker in characterization and plotting. The Children of the Lost is a stronger book, though it also has its flaws. One thing I feel compelled to point out upfront, however, is that The Children of the Lost ends in a true cliffhanger of an ending, and so those who find such endings annoying may want to hold off until the third book comes out (I assume next year).
The Children of the Lost shares most of the same characters from The Midnight Charter, including the two major ones: Lily and Mark, along with other familiar ones such as the Director (who runs the city of Agora), the shadily effective Snutsworth, Lily’s friends at the Almshouse — Laud, Dr. Theo, etc. And part of the book shares the same setting: the city of Agora, where everything is up for formal sale and contracting, including people, memories, emotions, and political support.
The Children of the Lost opens up the geography, however, picking up at the end of the last novel when Lily and Mark were cast out of the city. This gives Whitley leave to explore several other settings. As with Agora’s extreme form of capitalism, Whitley uses these separate settings to portray ways of life for the characters (and the reader) to consider in light of their/our own priorities. Once again, Whitley offers up a story of ideas (even if some are a bit familiar) rather than simply plot. As with the first book, this meets with mixed success: one lifestyle is a bit predictable (though to be fair, it will be much less so to younger readers, so this shouldn’t be considered a major flaw) while the others don’t quite get examined in anywhere near the detail of the first, or of Agora in the first book. Personally, I would have liked to have seen much more of both.
The Children of the Lost also does a better job with characterization, as both Mark and Lily come alive a bit more here. Even better, their relationship does as well, and the way the two spark off of each other, for good and bad, is a major improvement. Side characters in the Mark/Lily plot line are mostly one-dimensional, save for one. The Agora plot line gives us many more characters, though we spend less time with each. Here the plot involving the Director and Snutsworth is the most interesting (and leaves the most questions hanging), while a subplot involving a rabble-rouser character offers up potential for the future if not a lot of excitement here. Finally, the subplot involving Lily’s friends at the Almshouse is, I have to say, relatively dull and repetitive, though luckily we don’t spend much time on it.
In general, the plot moves along more quickly and smoothly than that of The Midnight Charter, especially for the first two-thirds of the book. It does have a few pacing issues, mostly in struggling with how to portray the characters waiting and not doing much without that same sensation happening to the reader. The ending, unfortunately, is probably the weakest part. It feels quite rushed, has several clumsy sections of exposition, and then, as mentioned, ends on that cliffhanger.
I gave The Midnight Charter a “weak three” in that review, but would put The Children of the Lost up at a strong three or a weak four; it shows improvement in nearly every aspect save for its close. If the same level of improvement occurs between this and the next book, it looks like the series will be a winner, but at this point, I think I’ll wait for that next one before recommending whether readers should start the series or not.
The Agora Trilogy — (2009-2010) Ages 9-12. Publisher: In a society based on trade, where everything can be bought and sold, the future rests on the secrets of a single document — and the lives of two children whose destiny it is to discover its secrets. In this spellbinding novel, newcomer David Whitley has imagined a nation at a crossroads: misshaped by materialism and facing a choice about its future. He has brought to life two children who will test the nation’s values-and crafted a spellbinding adventure story that will keep readers turning the pages until the very end. For readers who love Philip Pullman, THE MIDNIGHT CHARTER combines great storytelling with a compelling vision — a many layered adventure with powerful and timely implications.