Friday, February 10, 2012

The Invisible Tower

This is the last of the middle school novels I had on my shelf that were coming out in January. The Invisible Tower, by Nils Johnson-Shelton, is the first of a new series, Otherworld Chronicles, and it's a decent book. There's still something about the writing style that is probably how middle school novels are supposed to be written but that strikes me as too direct and simple since I was reading much more complicated books at that age. But the story is engaging, and I enjoyed the direction it ultimately took.

Artie Kingfisher is a quiet, nerdy boy who's just discovered how to beat a difficult dragon on a video game called Otherworld. But when a message addressed directly to him appears as an easter egg in the game, his true destiny is revealed. Young Artie is really King Arthur of Avalon, reborn, and the wizard Merlin needs him to retrieve a key in the real Otherworld, a magical sister world to Earth. Artie teams up with his sister (in his adoptive family) and a few new friends to pull the sword from the stone and Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake. But many trials and real dangers await Arthur and his new knights on their way to releasing Merlin from his long imprisonment, the most terrifying of which is the sorceress Morgaine. She wants Excalibur, and Merlin wants his freedom. But what does Artie want?

This idea is a very clever way of bringing Arthur back to life. It's very fantastical and quite a bit over the top. It's not particularly close to the original stories of King Arthur, but it's not meant to be either. Different fictional worlds are thrown together; it appears the author really enjoys Alice's Adventures in Wonderland since he borrows heavily from that. Hardcore Arthurian legend fans probably won't like this rendition, but imagination and creativity are certainly not lacking in Johnson-Shelton's Otherworld.

The pure imagination of it is what kept me reading. There are little things I could nitpick at in the story. I'm annoyed by the fact that the kids' dad is initially put under a spell so that the kids can do whatever they want around him and get away with it. But they eventually feel bad about using him, and he's finally brought into the loop.

I don't think it's accidental that Merlin is introduced in the prologue the way he is. For most of the book, he seems like a great guy looking out for Artie, but right off the bat, we're told that his priority is finding a way to escape. And the end leaves you wondering about Merlin, whether he's good or bad or somewhere between the two. It's a great cliffhanger for the rest of the series. I think I was particularly struck by Merlin's possible duality because the rest of the book is so forthright, telling things as they are. I admit, I was a bit caught off guard to learn at the end that Merlin's actions might be self-serving, yet I think it was at the back of my mind for the whole book, due to that nice bit of prologue workmanship.

Despite the book's flaws, I think story trumps craft, so I give this one a thumb's up.

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