Friday, August 22, 2014

The Keeper and the Rune Stone (Paige W. Pendleton)

The Keeper and the Rune Stone
(The Black Ledge series, Book 1)
Paige W. Pendleton
Pig Wing Press
Fiction, YA Fantasy
** (Bad)

DESCRIPTION: After their father made a fortune off his new anti-viral medicine, the Driscoll children - Rob, Eleanor, Jake, and little Flora - find themselves in a new home, a giant old mansion on the Maine coast. It comes with everything a kid could hope for: private bedrooms, a thousand nooks and crannies to explore, a horse stable, a private beach, access to the vast state park... and a gateway to the Realm, the magical world of Elves, Dwarves, and other Beings from myth and legend. "Wakened" to this magical world by the Keeper, Camedon, the children find all new wonders to explore - and all new dangers awaiting them. The coming Summer Solstice marks the renewal of an ancient pact between the beings of Light and the Night Elves, who include among their numbers the rebellious and utterly corrupted Noctivagi - better known to Humans as vampires. But the Rune Stone, the key to the pact, has gone missing... and if the Solstice dawns without it, dire consequences await the Realm and the Human world alike.

REVIEW: This story tries so hard to emulate old-school children's books, like C. S. Lewis's Narnia tales or Edith Nesbit's adventures, that it falls into an inescapable trap. There's a certain innocence required for those stories to work, a naiveté that hearkens back to simpler days and simpler ways... a mindset that is very, very hard to reconcile with kids who use laptops and surf the net. Authors like Brandon "Fablehaven" Mull pull it off by making their characters a little more sophisticated or skeptical at the outset, but the Driscolls are so wide-eyed and innocent that it's difficult to believe they live in the modern world at all. Hard as Pendleton tries to roll back the clock, with the elves and the old house and the horesback riding and the talk of Olde Magyk, even limiting the kids to just one internet search in the entire book, it doesn't quite work.
Meanwhile, the story hoards its action like a miserly ogre. For every paragraph in which something actually happens, at least ten pages are spent either dithering aimlessly or talking around events in repetitive circles. It also throws names out like party confetti. Not only are there the four kids (who each boil down to a one-word description: Smart Rob, Brave Eleanor, Funny Jake, and Innocent Flora), but there's the Driscoll parents, the Keeper Camedon, a goblin (who presumably has a bigger role in future books), a barn cat and her kittens (likewise), six horses (yes, they have horses, because most modern kids can relate to children with more money than God), two crows, the different races of Beings, a slew of Light Elves, a handful of other Keepers, the town librarian who also knows about the Realm, a groundskeeper... If you found that exhausting, try reading a book that expects you to keep track of these various names, mostly because people keep yammering about them. Magic exists as a convenience, an unknowable Thing that behaves as the plot requires (and gives the characters something else to babble about at length - even the animals, because naturally animals know all about the intricacies of the Realm's politics and rituals and are perfectly willing to chit-chat about it in lieu of actually doing anything.) Towards the end, there's a brief burst of action that tries to be scary, but the story thus far had been wrapped in so many protective layers of chatter that it was hard to feel much danger. And then it ends, with hints that even the author was losing focus amid the chatter as the narrative inexplicably drifts between Eleanor's viewpoint and another character's.
I'd like to say that The Keeper and the Rune Stone at least managed to evoke an occasional sense of magical wonder, which it was clearly striving for (and is what one usually remembers most about those old-school classics), but frankly my main memory of this book is endless, repetitive yammering.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Over Sea, Under Stone (Susan Cooper) - My Review
The Chronicles of Narnia (C. S. Lewis) - My Review
Fablehaven (Brandon Mull) - My Review

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