Monday, October 8, 2012

Rise of the Elgen (Michael Vey, Book 2)

Rise of the Elgen is the second book in Richard Paul Evans's young adult series about Michael Vey, a teenager with electric powers, so if you haven't read the first, don't start here. Reading this review might spoil the first book, and if you read this book first, you'll be playing catch-up for a long time. Start with The Prisoner of Cell 25, which I've reviewed for you here. If you like superheroes and science fiction, you'll like this series.

Again, if you haven't read the first book, there will be some major SPOILERS ahead. Michael Vey and his Electroclan, other kids with assorted electric powers, are on the run. After shutting down the facility he'd been a prisoner at and recruiting some of the formerly-evil electric teens to his cause, there isn't a place on the globe that Michael can run to where Dr. Hatch won't hunt him down. But Michael isn't planning on running away. He plans on running toward the danger so that he can free his mother from Hatch's cruel hand. The rest of the electric teens, and a few friends who aren't, are deeply loyal to Michael, so he's not alone. His best friend is a brainiac. His girlfriend can read minds. Two former school enemies and bullies owe him their lives, so even though they're not electric, they're part of the group, putting all that aggression to good use now. Then there's Zeus, who shoots electric bolts; McKenna, who heats things up; Abigail, who can ease pain with a touch; and Ian, who's blind but can see living things better than anyone. And as time passes, Michael's own powers of electrocution become stronger. The Electroclan is a force to be reckoned with. But so is Hatch. He still has some very powerful electric teens on his side, and the methods he'll use to keep his people in check provide him with a very loyal and dangerous group of soldiers of his own: the Elgen. This second book of the series takes the action into the jungles of the Amazon basin in Peru.

You can get bogged down in names and details in this series, but at the same time, part is that contributes to why it's so good. Evans puts all his characters to use. None of them are just along for the ride or a pretty face (okay, except maybe Wade, poor secondary character). Each electric power comes in handy. Each character contributes, both to the physical plot and to the emotional development of the book.

There's also something very good about this series and Michael Vey, in particular. Michael wants to do the right thing. He has all this responsibility on his shoulders, but the power never goes to his head. The good characters are clearly good, and the bad characters are clearly whatever they are: truly evil or conflicted or coerced. There's in-fighting in Michael's group, but they learn to overcome it and even fight for each other, instead. It's a series about teens who don't have it all together but who do have these amazing powers they are willing to use for good, even if it terrifies them to confront evil.

That doesn't mean the book's remotely realistic, but when are superhero stories ever? Yeah, things are a little over-the-top. There are lots of helpful coincidences (a fact the book doesn't deny) and lots of impossible odds. Peru is definitely not as dangerous as Evans makes it out to be. I grew up in the Amazon rainforests; I should know.

Despite the goodness of the Good vs. Evil being really good (or maybe to balance it), the evil is pretty awful at times: torture, violence, and death. The good guys try not to kill in cold blood, but there are casualties as they defend themselves. The bad guys don't have any such scruples, of course, and I'd be disappointed in the book if it pulled punches like that. But the level of violence, particularly in the torture, may not be for everyone.

That said, however, Rise of the Elgen is a good addition to Evans's series and a book that older teens and adults alike should enjoy. Four stars.

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