The latest entry into the Kingdom Keepers proves a worthy read. As a high school librarian so I read A LOT of young adult literature and lead a successful student bookclub so I would like to think of myself as a bit of an expert in the field which makes this published book review all the more intimidating. I FEEL the PRESSURE, a librarian writing a Disney book review on a Disney site, to be read by thousands of die hard Disney fans. Here we go!
First, a brief introduction of the series for those not familiar with books. Kingdom Keepers, written by Ridley Pearson, centers around five middle school aged (when the series began) children who were picked as models for Disney’s hologram tour guides, or DHIs as they are known in the books. The children soon learn they have the power to enter the parks after hours as their DHI, but this power is no accident since they have received this gift from the Imagineers to help protect the park from a group of Disney Villains known as the Overtakers led by Maleficent. These fab five become known simply as The Keepers
You can get a list of the main characters here: Characters
The series, through five books now, has experienced mixed reviews with readers agreeing the second and fourth books being the best of the series, while the third book proves excruciating to finish. Author Ridley Pearson obviously found difficulty at times plotting the books to give proper attention to The Parks, to character development, while including all the action young adult readers desire, hence the ups and downs of the series. As a librarian, I find the Kingdom Keepers a niche series without much crossover to non-Disney fans no matter how much I put them on display or talk them up. This disheartens me because it is an admirable action series I know students would enjoy!
Now, onto the review of Shell Game.
In Ridley Pearson’s Shell Game, we find our Keepers entering high school and the series attempts to grow with them. We will see our heros begin to experience some teen love amongst themselves, yes parents, we have some kissing and even a hand in a shirt, (on the tummy — this is Disney after all). Usual problems that teens face abound in the book and I will discuss this more in depth later in the review. Settings for this installment (each book usually features a Disney Park) include a short visit to Typhoon Lagoon and then onto The Disney Dream cruise ship and Castaway Cay island.
My brief summary of the plot will not give away any major spoilers, so, please, read on.
An all important Disney World maintenance base controlling all four parks is under attack from the Overtakers and a stolen journal of Walt Disney’s looks to help them succeed in their mission. Readers are soon treated to an amazing battle at Typhoon Lagoon where an unexpected hero makes an appearance but, unfortunately, The Keepers lose one of their biggest allies. Disney Cruise Liner, The Dream, serves as the setting for the rest of the story as our Keepers travel as honored guests on the maiden voyage cruise ship also destined as first to navigate through the Panama Canal. While on the ship The Keepers experiement with DHI 2.0 and this cruise gives them their first experience of using DHI outside of The Parks. A majority of the cruise involves our heroes trying to retrieve the stolen journal, to discover The Overtaker’s secrets, and barely to escape with their lives during various action sequences. Along the way we meet some new characters, good and bad alike, and maybe, serious troubles of the heart for Finn (our group’s leader), in the name of Story Ming.
Now let’s look at some of my problems with the book. If you find your life a little short of teen angst then this book will fill your need. Every page seems to have Finn worrying over his leadership role, his love life, various jealousies, and retirement (read the book). Definitely not one of Pearson’s strengths, he doesn’t write these worries in a seamless manner, instead we are constantly beat over the head with Finn’s insecurities. We also do not find a lot of character development; our characters, besides growing older and more romantic, do not find much individual growth. I read one review calling this volume a “bridge book.” When you read my discussion of enjoying the novel’s action you might think I am about to contradict myself, but the action sequences go on far too long. At times, I find myself saying aloud, “Look, Maybeck, you are fast, just run away already!” All too often, I got the feeling the author extended the action to reach a certain number of pages.
On to the good stuff! This installment gives you a roller coaster of a ride with the best action of the series (I told you I might sound contradictory). Pearson has steadily grown into making the action with the characters more believable and fun. You begin to sense that Pearson looked forward to the Keepers growing up so that he could do more with them in action and plot, and he certainly did! Now, if characters could only get more personality development we will be set! Speaking of character development, we also don’t receive much background for any of our new characters, but this pays off with at least one, Story Ming; her mysteriousness adds so much to the story. We will want to know more about this young lady! I personally enjoyed the new setting as I have not yet sailed on a Disney Cruise, so the novel opened up a whole new Disney world.
All in all, I rate this one of the better additions, but not the best, to the series and I look forward to the next installment. A lack of overall advances in the story arc are easily amended with the fun action and intriguing circumstances.
One little warning: if you don’t like cliffhangers, and I mean a scream-in-anguish-at-having-to-wait cliffhanger, then you should stall until the next installment releases before reading Shell Game. Book six: Dark Passage will release April 2013.