Saturday, March 1, 2008

The Other Book

The Other Book
Philip Womak
Bloomsbury Publishers
By Melissa

The Other Book has an intriguing premise: Edward, a student at the Oldstone Boarding School finds out that he's the chosen guardian of a magical book that's lain dormant for 400 years. It's his job to protect the book and keep it from getting into the hands of those who would want to use its powers for evil. There's so much that could be done with it. Mysterious old books, demons from the Other Side, spooky old houses, magical mysteries: all are prime elements for a good, suspenseful, action-filled fantasy tale.

I hoped this book would be brilliant. Unfortunately, though, the idea never gains any momentum. I wanted the book to have the suspense, the action, the mystery that the idea warranted. However, Womak was just not up to the task. It's a problem often found in fantasy and science fiction books: the author comes up with a unique idea, a brilliant world, some fascinating characters. But the plot and prose of a book is much more than an idea. An idea -- no matter how unique, brilliant or fascinating -- is just not enough to carry a 272 page book.

There's a litany of things wrong with the book: the characters are wooden, the action boring, the exposition dull, the magic incomprehensible, the climax confusing. There is too much tell and not enough show. I could care less that Edward's having a tough time figuring out The Other Book; I figured out what was going on and what needed to be done, and became impatient waiting for Edward to catch up. The best fantasy writers keep the reader in suspense all along, foreshadowing future events, but not dropping them hints: Edward didn't know that Lady Anne was evil, lurking, waiting to do him harm, but we do, wink-wink. Eventually, he figures it out, but getting there held no suspense for me, as a reader. It didn't help that I constantly felt like Womak was trying to channel Philip Pullman in the character of Lady Anne. She was power hungry, bidding her minions and her mad scientists to do all sorts of evil things to Edward. But it came off as flat, as if Lady Anne was just a poser: she's not really evil, but rather playing at it because that's what this character is supposed to do.

It didn't help that I didn't even find our hero, Edward, his best friend William (who's a real wimp),or even the school bully Guy Lane Grover interesting, let alone sympathetic. I felt as if they were paper dolls going through the motions, stereotypes of British boarding school boys, Hogwarts wannabes. I think Womak was going for depth and confusion, but again: too much show and not enough tell. The only confusion he succeeded in creating is on the part of the reader.

The big question will be: is this something that Harry Potter fans can get in to? Even if I, as an adult, didn't like it, will it appeal to the 10- to 12-year-old crowd? I can safely say that while the idea might initially grab them, drawing them in, by the end of the book (if they make it that far), they won't care whether or not Edward and his friends survive this adventure, let alone ever go on another one. Which is too bad: the idea deserves a book worthy of it.

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