Monday, May 12, 2014

Mystics #1: The Seventh Sense (Kim Richardson)

Mystics #1: The Seventh Sense
(The Mystics series, Book 1)
Kim Richardson
Fiction, YA Fantasy
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: Zoey St. John has seen monsters all her life; the only reason she's not in a mental hospital is that she learned to keep her mouth shut... and, with some help from the library and the Internet, she learned how to deal with them. As a foster child, currently in her 28th home, she has enough problems without being labeled a freak. For fourteen years, she's taken care of herself, but lately the monsters have been growing bolder. After an evil parasite takes out her foster mother, she finds herself facing a beast unlike any she's met before - one that's immune to the salt that usually dissolves them. That's when she first meets the monster-hunting agents, and realizes she's not alone in the world.
The Agency is a hidden collective of Sevenths: people who, like her, have the "seventh sense" to see monsters, or "mystics" as they prefer to be known. Working with friendly mystics, the agents help protect oblivious "Mutes" (the general, monster-blind population) from hostile entities. Zoey is thrilled to finally be among people who understand her... but they seem less than thrilled to find her. For one thing, she's a Drifter: a rogue, an unknown quantity in a close-knit community that's used to distrusting outsiders. For another, she quickly falls afoul of a bully named Stuart and his cronies, all part of an upstart group who call themselves Originals, true-blood descendants of the first humans gifted with the seventh sense. Even as she struggles to find her place in this new, strange world, a greater threat looms over the Agency - a threat that Zoey alone might be able to stop.

REVIEW: This story starts with plenty of promise. Zoey is a self-sufficient heroine who, on realizing she had a peculiar ability, chose to educate herself rather than be a victim. Then she runs into the agents, and the originality peters out as the tale can't decide if it's Men in Black or Harry Potter. It leans heavily on the story structure of the latter: an orphan who comes late into the world that is her birthright, a bully enemy with ties to a cult that considers purity of blood paramount, a nemesis that only she and her pals are ever in a position to overhear (let alone stop), kids thrown into dangerous situations and forced to act on their own when grown-ups prove too stubborn to listen to them... I was honestly surprised the Agency's training program didn't divide the kids into Houses and teach broomstick-flying in class. The characters fell so readily into familiar roles that I found myself visualizing actors from the Harry Potter movies playing them, though even at his worst Ron Weasley was nowhere near as irritating as the comic-relief sidekick Simon (who even pulls his annoying antics when the trio are trying to sneak past deadly adversaries.) Zoey even shares Harry's obsession with the fate of her parents, especially after a conveniently-overheard deathbed comment clues her in to the fact that her mother was known by the Agency. (Indeed, her resemblance to her mother is emphasized to the point that it seems ridiculous when none of the long-term agents and teachers she meets once does a double-take; they continue to label her a Drifter of unknown parentage.) The plot moves at a fair pace, though it relies a little too heavily on Plot-Extending Stupidity and amazing coincidences, not to mention villains who can't shut up about their nefarious plans when they think they're alone. There's a strangely unsettled feel to the overall tone; some of the monsters seem downright absurd, though the high body count makes them anything but silly. It was as if Richardson had mashed together all the Harry Potter books in this story, with the whimsy of the first book pressed cheek-to-jowl with the darkness of the seventh. (And I realize I've mentioned Harry Potter multiple times in this review; that franchise's influence here was impossible to ignore, and downright distracting.)
For a story that started on such a strong, original note, I couldn't help feeling disappointed by the end, when it couldn't trust itself to stand on its own two feet and fell back on overused, Rowling-inspired crutches.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Supernaturalist (Eoin Colfer) - My Review
Stoneheart (Charlie Fletcher) - My Review
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (J. K. Rowling) - My Review

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