Thursday, October 27, 2011

Witch & Wizard (James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet)

Witch & Wizard
(The Witch & Wizard series, Book 1)
James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet
Little, Brown and Company
Fiction, YA Fantasy
** (Bad)

DESCRIPTION: For decades, the power of the New Order had been growing, but as high schoolers the siblings Whit and Wisty Allgood didn't pay much attention. Politics is for grown-ups and debate club dweebs, not a football star like Whit or a habitual truant like Wisty. Then one morning they woke to hear the sound of boots marching past their suburban home... followed by a commando team breaking down their door. Suddenly hauled away by New Order forces, accused of witchcraft (of which they know nothing) and sentenced to death, Whit and Wisty finally realize that politics does indeed affect them. As harsh as the New Order is on ordinary freedoms, banning books and music and imagination, the all-powerful One Who Is The One seems to have a personal vendetta against the Allgood teens. But why? It's not like they're really a wizard and a witch, with some sort of weird mystical power that could threaten his plan to dominate the world... are they?

REVIEW: I know it's probably not fair, but I cannot help comparing James Patterson to K. A. "Animorph" Applegate. Patterson writes mostly adult thrillers. Applegate writes for kids and young adults. Patterson's a household name. Applegate... very popular, but not quite that big. Patterson pitches this book at the upper age bracket of the Young Adult spectrum, while Applegate generally hits midgrade and younger. Yet, even at its weakest, the Animorphs series runs rings around this book.
Setting aside the grave mistake of naming his protagonists almost identically ("Whit" and Wisty" scan very similarly, and their narrative voices are the same), there are so many problems here I hardly know where to begin. Let's try the beginning, shall we? The book starts with a dramatic public execution in progress before cutting to the backstory of how the Allgoods found themselves before a stadium full of spectators, about to be dropped to their doom by The One Who Is The One. (Brilliantly original name, there... but, then, it fits the one-dimensional villain like a glove. Or rather a mitten - a glove would imply complexity of design. But I digress...) Unfortunately - and this risks a spoiler, but frankly I don't care - this book never catches up to the execution. It just leaves the reader hanging on a "to be continued..." cliffhanger. But, I'd lost faith in the thing long before then. Tissue-thin caricatures of characters, little to no logic to the world's magic, less logic behind the whole New Order, pathetic alternate-world versions of real-world books and bands (The Walking Heads? The Pitcher in the Wheat? Really?), zero plot depth, all written in a tooth-grindingly immature voice... oh, but why go on?
Did Patterson seriously think that teens were this stupid? Was he writing some sort of deadpan parody of teen magial realism series? Are all of his best-selling thrillers this lousy, or does the blame lie on his co-author? Contrast any character or situation in this book with the Animorphs, where middle-schoolers confront death, destruction, paranoia, loss of self, the politics of war, battle trauma, torture, and even the possibility of killing their own family members for the greater good of Earth's liberation, and it's easy to see which author respects their readers, and which is just looking for a quick buck on a popular genre.

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