The adventure in The Akhenaten Adventures involves a pair of twins, 12-yr-old John and Philippa Gaunt, who discover after a series of odd events that they are not simple upper-class adolescents as they’ve always though but a pair of djinns (“genie” is considered vulgar) about to come into their own powers. Soon they’re off to London and the tutelage of their Uncle Nimrod. It turns out, however, that they need to learn their powers quickly, for Nimrod is involved in a dangerous quest to prevent the head of an evil djinn tribe from finding a source of great power, the key to which has been buried under the sands of Egypt.
This first book in the Children of the Lamp series has several good things going for it. Its world of magic, an Arabian Nights atmosphere centered on the djinn, is more original than most of the teen (and adult) fantasy out there (though Jonathan Stroud’s stronger Bartimeus series has some similarities). There is a wry sense of humor throughout most of the book and if sometimes the humor is a bit wince-inducing, for the most part it has a pleasantly light touch to it. And there are several scenes of vivid originality. It perhaps has one too many endings, but in general it’s a well-paced, quick read.
It also has some negatives. The characterization is somewhat shallow, especially for the two young main characters and too often we are told what they are thinking rather than shown it. Since so much of the book, by necessity, is backstory and world-building, perhaps the characters will deepen as the series continues. One hopes so. Another problem is a lack of internal consistency. Too many parts of the djinn powers seem glossed over or carelessly explained. At some points of the book, Nimrod is adamant about the need to use one’s powers as rarely as possible (use of the power literally robs the djinn of energy and life — in Nimrod’s case he says a day for each use), but at other times he seems to use his power out of sheer whimsy. The lack of consistency on this matter becomes more of a flaw as one begins to suspect Nimrod’s protestations occur merely as a means to manipulate the plot down a certain path. There are similar problems in the book with regard to wishes and their granting — at one point there’s an elaborate discussion of just how to phrase a wish that would achieve only half of a desired result — why not just wish for the whole result? — and with regards to remembering past events as at one point a character asks another if he thinks there’s such a thing as ghosts when earlier in the book that character had given something of a lecture on ghosts’ very definite existence.
These problems — some minor, some major — mar an otherwise entertaining book. Clearly, though, the series has potential and if Kerr can strengthen the characters and create a stronger foundation for the series’ magical premise, all while keeping his sense of humor and fast-paced adventure then the next book or two in the series will be well-worth picking up. Recommended with the hope and expectation that the next book will improve on the first.
Children of the Lamp — (2004-2011) Ages 9-12. Publisher: John and Philippa Gaunt, two twelve-year-old not-very-identical twins, live a privileged life on the Upper East of Manhattan with their wealthy parents and two curiously-mannered Rottweilers named Alan and Neil. The twins realize there’s something amiss with their world when a string of strange things begin to happen after their wisdom teeth are extracted — they dream the same dreams, become stronger, their zits clear up, and wishes wished in their presence inexplicably come true. And, when their estranged Uncle Nimrod asks them to come to England for the summer during one such shared dream, the discovery of their destiny is set in motion. John and Phillippa discover that they are descended from a long line of Djinn, have great inherent powers. They must call on these powers a lot sooner than they anticipated, though, because the ancient Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten is not as dead as history has so far declared and his legion of seventy magical djinn could tip the balance of power in the magical realm and affect the whole world order.