Monday, December 8, 2008

Book Review: PJ Hoover's The Emerald Tablet

I know. I'm bad. Or at least the husband tells me so. See, I put PJ Hoover's book, The Emerald Tablet, on my Christmas wish list, but then I went ahead and ordered it for myself anyway. I couldn't help it! All I needed was one more item in my shopping cart with Amazon and I got the free super-saver discount, and I'd been wanting it for just about forever, and er, yeah. The husband didn't buy it either. I'm banned from Amazon until after Christmas. Course, he doesn't know that I also just ordered JK Rowling's Tales of Beedle the Bard, but I totally ordered that before I got banned! (as far as he knows)

It came on Friday--perfect timing as I'd given up on the other book that I'd been reading. The good news: I actually had something good to read this weekend! The bad news: it's all what am I going to read?!

Five Sentence Summary: Benjamin Holt and his best friend Andy are used to being the smartest kids in school--to say nothing of the telekinesis and telepathy they practice. Nevertheless, Benjamin's off to summer school, but this is not your typical summer school. This is summer school for people who aren't human--as Benjamin had always assumed he was--but who are telegens, people from an ancient race that was the foundation of Atlantis (and the island nation Benjamin's people are from, Lemuria) and is the source of most ultra-intelligent "humans" and the gods of mythology. At summer school, Benjamin's no longer top of his class, but at least his lessons are on telepathy, telekinesis, and teleportation. Benjamin doesn't have time to worry too much about school, though, because he's just found out he's got to save the world.

So what can we, as writers, learn from this novel?

1. Location, location, location: Aside from a fully developed fantasy world, Benjamin and his pals travel to various locations around the world in search of keys. Kids love to explore, and they love to experience new things. In the course of this novel, kids don't just see what Lemuria is like, they also discover real-life exotic locations like Tibet and poetic-fantasies like Coleridge's mythical Xanadu. The protags get to go places and explore locations that most people never will (and some locations that are impossible to see)--and they take their readers along for the ride. Varying locations between reality and fantasy and exploring new worlds adds an entirely new dimension to the novel and give the reader a truly unique experience.

2. Unique magic: There are tons of MG and YA fantasies out there. Kids discovering magic and special powers is a trope of the genre. But what sets this book apart is that the magic is unique. It's not magic-wand-Harry-Potter. It's not ooo-I'm-magic-for-no-logical-reason. It's not a Tolkein rip-off. It really is a fully realized unique method of magic that I, at least, had not seen in a book before. While the method of magic--telepathy, teleportation, etc.--is not new, the logic behind it, the reasons for it, and the way in which the kids use it is new, and really sets the novel apart. Additionally, the objects invented within the novel, such as mangifiers and the Geodine, are just brilliant--creative, but also logical.

3. Injected humor: While the overall plot is pretty serious--save the world, stop the evil guys from coming--there is injected humor throughout that keeps the story entertaining. The chapter headers sometimes have those one-line or one-word zingers that made me laugh out loud, but more than that is Jack. Jack is a side character in the novel that befriends Benjamin, and while his role in the story is important, I felt that part of his role was to lighten the mood, much like Fred and George Weasley in the Harry Potter books. When things got a bit too serious, or a bit too dark, or a bit to mission-oriented, Jack would pop up and remind us all that it's also fun! His appearances were rare, but gold every time.

4. Foreshadow: The first of a series, this book could stand alone--but the hints of what's to come make it a pretty sweet taste of the rest of the series. There are just enough subtle hints that make me wonder how the rest of the series will play out. Is Joey, who's just mentioned at the very beginning and very end, going to be significant? What about the twins...their powers may be key in the future (to say nothing of the twin rulers of Lemuria)? And Ryan Jordan and his friend Jonathon seems pretty fishy to me.... In addition to the hints of the future books, there's also a fair sprinkling of hints and key objects within the first novel itself. The twins' gift to Benjamin comes up again; the lesson on astronomy plays a key role later one; a character we meet early on is more than he seems... This is the kind of thing that keeps readers up at night, long after the husband has said if I keep the light on any longer, he's going to sleep with the dog.

The Bottom Line: Let's be honest. This is a Hero's Journey, like many other MG fantasies out there. But the magic, intertwining plot, travels to exotic locations, and sprinklings of humor make this novel not your typical fantasy...and an excellent, hard-to-put-down read!

Side note: My one quibble? I didn't understand the cover. Were those buildings supposed to be Lemuria? I assumed so, but still didn't really understand. Until I started writing this and tried to look up a picture of the Emerald Buddha...and found this:

Oh! My brain popped here--now the cover makes sense!

For more pictures of the Emerald Buddha temple, check out this site.


PJ Hoover said...

Aw, thank you so much for the awesome review, Beth! And I'm actually thrilled you say it's a Hero's Journey because now when I talk to kids at school visits about The Hero's Journey, I can feel totally justified in using my book as the example!

And nice googling on the cover :) Yes, Bangkok at night.

Thank you!

Unknown said...

My pleasure! I'm just glad I finally found a book worth reading!!!

christine M said...

Great review for a great book!

lotusgirl said...

I'm looking forward to picking it up and reading it. This will be a perfect book for my daughter. It's right in her sweet spot. Thanks for the review to fill me in.

Unknown said...

Thanks Chris and Susan! And Lois, you should absolutely invest in this one for your daughter...she'll love it! (And so will you!)

Keri Mikulski said...

Can't wait to read TET! Thanks for the review.

PJ Hoover said...

Thanks so much, everyone, for all the nice words!

Vivian Mahoney said...

I love your book reviews! Yay for P.J.!