Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Books: Charlie Bone and the Hidden King

Children of the Red King Book 5: Charlie Bone and the Hidden King
by Jenny Nimmo

Quickie Synopsis: On the eve of his 10th birthday, Charlie Bone finds that he can hear the voices of people in photographs. Fearing that he's going insane, Charlie instead discovers that he is one of the magically talented descendants of the Red King, an ancient monarch who had 10 children each endowed with special powers. Charlie is sent to boarding school at the mysterious Bloor's Academy where he meets other children with incredible talents and begins to realize that there is a rift in the descendants of the Red King, some of whom are working for good and others who are hungry for power. In this fifth book, Charlie Bone and his friends venture further into the mystery of the Red King, battle an ancient shadow, and get closer to the truth about Charlie's missing father.

Other books in the Children of the Red King Series:

Book 1: Midnight for Charlie Bone--in which Charlie first discovers his power, begins his adventures at Bloor's Academy, and searches for a missing girl.
Book 2: Charlie Bone and the Time Twister--in which an old relative of Charlie Bone and a nemesis of the Bloors is sent forward through time to Charlie's present day
Book 3: Charlie Bone and the Invisible Boy--in which Charlie Bone and his friends attempt to find and rescue an invisible boy named Ollie.

Book 4: Charlie Bone and the Castle of Mirrors--in which Charlie and his friends work to save Billy Raven from his sinister adopted family


Ok, you're all thinking it, so let's get it out in the open: This "Children of the Red King" series bears so many similarities to the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling that it's almost laughable. Slightly clueless boy who still somehow becomes the magnetic leader of his group of friends? Check. Magical academy set in a castle-like manor with twisty hallways, lofty ceilings, and portraits of stuff old people? Check. An inevitable battle between good and evil building over the course of several books? Check. And unfortunately, since these books came out after the beginning of the Harry Potter craze, I don't even think it's possible to say Jenny Nimmo wasn't influenced by the Potter books.

But here are the positives and why these books are worth reading: Nimmo's series is geared toward a younger audience who may not be ready for the darker, more complicated Harry Potter books. They would be perfect for an eager second grader all the way on up to a fifth grader. Despite some of the iconic resemblances to the Potter series, Nimmo stands on her own with unique characters, engaging dialogue, and unexpected plot situations. Her books are solidly well-written and vibrant with a spark and creativity that is all Nimmo's own.

Having said this, Book 5: Charlie Bone and the Hidden King was a bit of a disappointment. A lot of the same attributes that really distinguished Nimmo's books in the past ended up falling flat in this latest installment. The dialogue was often stilted and peppered with the kind of bland, characterless phrases that you might find in the first meeting of a Short Fiction 101 class. The characters, who readers have grown to love over the course of the previous four books, appear fickle and one-dimensional. Perhaps in response to criticisms that her plot development has been too predictable in her past books, the storyline in Book 5 takes so many sharp turns and felt so cobbled together that it left me feeling bewildered, confused, and ultimately unsatisfied. Even the long-anticipated unveiling of Charlie's true father wasn't enough to pull this book out of its doldrums.

More than anything else, it felt like Nimmo lost confidence in her vision for the series. Flipping through the front of the book, I see that Nimmo has dedicated the book to the memory of her editor, Miriam Hodgson. I wonder if the death of her editor can partly explain the loss of momentum in this book--or if her editor was the real powerhouse behind the spark and creativity in the series? It's unclear whether or not this is the final book in the series. In many ways I hope it isn't the end of the series. This would be a disappointing and anticlimactic end to what is otherwise a fantastic and imaginative middle-reader series. I have faith that Nimmo can reconnect with her original enthusiasm and desire for this project, and bring series to a more powerful conclusion in another book.

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