Monday, February 13, 2012

The Dragon Box (Katie W. Stewart)

The Dragon Box
Katie W. Stewart
Amazon Digital Services
Fiction, YA Fantasy
**+ (Bad/Okay)

DESCRIPTION: James didn't want to go over to Mack's house. Everyone knew he was a crazy old man - who else would have a secret cat zapper in their yard? But Mum had been a friend of his since childhood, and wanted James to return a book she'd borrowed. As it turns out, Mack's nothing like the mean codger neighborhood rumor makes him out to be. Instead, he fancies himself an eccentric inventor - a modern-day mad scientist of sorts, with inventions ranging from a hologram projector to an unreliable remote-controlled door lock. Before he leaves, Mack gives the boy a strange gift: a little metal box that he claims is a computer game, even though it has no screen and no plug-in ports and only a single button. Dubiously, James presses the button... and finds himself in a strange world. A wizardly copy of old Mack informs the boy that he's inside a very special computer game; real as it seems, he can't come to any lasting harm, and he even has an emergency escape switch. But any game is prone to glitches, and James soon realizes that the quest to save an imaginary kingdom from a wicked witch might have dire real-world consequences.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: There seem to be two types of children's book authors in the world. One remembers the wonders and terrors of childhood and gleefully embraces them, respecting their readers enough not to water things down or bubble-wrap the corners. The other shrinks in fear of perpetually traumatizing unformed minds, constantly coddling their audience and shining a flashlight into every nook and cranny while reassuring them in loving whispers that "it's just a story, it's all just a story." (Well, to be honest, there are three types - the type that sees how hot the young adult market is and wants to dip their bucket into the golden river regardless of what their target audience needs or wants - but I digress.) Stewart fits neatly into the second category.
The story starts promisingly, establishing James as a picked-on boy trying to deal with a paraplegic father (formerly a professional soccer player) while being unable to live up to his own unrealistic expectations of himself. The kindly old man's strange game offers him a chance to develop self-confidence and problem-solving skills... and herein lies the problem. The story becomes a thinly-veiled Lesson for James, tromping from problem to problem and never failing to let James triumph. At this point, it becomes nothing but a Fluffy Bunny story. Everyone's nice except for one or two bad guys, nothing particularly dangerous or troublesome thwarts the heroes, and the only person who doubts there'll be a happy ending is James himself. The fact that James's mother once played the same game adds an unintentionally creepy factor; has Mack been stalking the family, or is there something special about them that makes them ideally suited to his experimental full-immersion games? I don't know, and I don't expect the author does, either, as no real explanation is offered. (I'd suspect a series, but the game world seems far too customized and lightweight to support it... not that Fluffy Bunny stories concern themselves overmuch about such things.)
Fortunately, I downloaded it during a freebie promotion window, or it would've lost another half-star.

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