Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Review: The Paladin Prophecy by Mark Frost

I know I've complained over the past few reviews about picking out bad books, but to be honest, just because I don't like a particular book, doesn't mean that it has no merit. It's only when I read a truly terrible book that my blood gets boiling and I begin to pull out the cannons and really prepare to wage war and that's only happened two times: I'll let my faithful readers decide what books those were. When I pick up a book, I generally know within the first chapter if it's my kind of book, a genre of fantasy I can really get into, but it takes much longer for me to figure out if it's a GOOD book. A book I'm not into I will put back on my shelf and save for when I find someone who may make a good owner for. A bad book, I read through all the way so that I can share my findings here.]

The Paladin Prophecy by Mark Frost was just that kind of bad book that I enjoy having come across my desk so that, like a finicky food critic, I can discuss the exact flavor of which I hated it.

The Paladin Prophecy is a book written by Mark Frost, a man I had no idea existed because he's famous for two things. The first is that he co-created a tv show called Twin Peaks that lasted for two seasons. I won't go into the show, because I never watched it, but apparently it was about an FBI agent solving a murder. He also co-wrote the Fantastic Four movies....but after watched the second movie, I'm not sure that that's anything to brag about.

The second thing he's famous for is writing a few books that I looked up, that seem to be based off a character of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and are a bit like mysteries. I take this of note because The Paladin Prophecy from what I've seen, this book is the first that Frost has done in the genre of Sci-fi/Fantasy and that places him firmly in my jurisdiction.

The Paladin Prophecy is about a boy named Will West who has lived his whole life trying to be ordinary. His parents, who have moved him around a lot throughout the years, have instructed him to never stand out and show how special he is. One day, Will finds out that he scored off the charts on a nationwide test and that he's been accepted to a prestigious school for geniuses. That same day, Will's parents get captured by a mysterious group of men and Will is forced to run away across the country to save himself.

I usually never use the term Sci-fi/Fantasy, because it's my belief that with very few exceptions they would never be mixed. But The Paladin Prophecy can't seem to make up its mind what genre it wants to be. On the one hand it has all the feeling of a fantasy with special powers and prophecies as well as holy knights, but on the other there are definite ESP/telekinetic moments as well as the fact that almost everything in the story is technology moments. It was definitely a feeling of "Keep your chocolate out of my peanut butter" kind of things that only got more convoluted as things went by. Halfway through the book, the story went from being about a kid who might be genetically enhanced to some kind of Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew/Scooby Doo crap where Will and his new friends at school decide to solve a mystery. I'm a big fan of the creative process, but The Paladin Prophecy had all the feel of a man who has three genres on a table and can't decide which to do so he just does them all.

The writing itself was generic and I kept flashing back on several other stories I've read over the years, Harry Potter being the most prominent obviously. Also, a big pet peeve of mine over the course of the book were THE RULES. Will's dad has created a list of rules throughout his life and Will has taken to them like a rich man to the country club guidelines. Every few page (sometimes even more frequently) a rule will pop up in big caps letting Will decide how he should act. There were two problems with this, the biggest part being the flow of the book. Having little rules of thumb pop up in the middle of the page was distracting and ruined the flow as much as having someone bang pots in the kitchen might and were almost as bad as Little-Did-They-Know moments. I don't know why Frost thought that these things were important enough to build a theme about because he could just as easily have made his character do the right thing rather than have it be his dad who drilled him over the years to memorize it. It all comes down to this: do you want a character who knows how to do the right thing on his own, or do you want a man with a parrot screeching in your ear every five minutes reminding you of a catechism that applies to just this kind of situation.

That brings me to the second problem with the rules. While the book approaches them as rules, most of them aren't even that. Don't get me wrong: while "Don't draw attention to yourself" might pass off for a rule, "There is no such thing as a coincidence" is not. It's sound advice, but for the most part, the rules of the book just pass off advice and common colloquialisms as a rule of life. It had all the air of a man who quotes famous people from history and tries to convince you that he said it first. Frost even has the gall to add the rules at the end of the book as if people are going to really want to remember that one rule that he said a few chapters off but can't remember. Here's a clue: they're in CAPS, I think they're fairly easy to find.

Not an easy segue way, but that brings me to the characters. For the most part, there were a lot of unique characters in the story, and each of them had a part to play, but it had a very cluttered feeling to them. Each character was introduced piece by piece throughout the story, and then quickly dismissed for the next, giving the feel of a group of attention-grabbing beauty queens on a tv show who are terrified they might get voted off. Almost every kind of stereotype was used. The shrimpy nerd, the smart bitchy one, the rich girl and the guy that should the white boy that needs to learn proper English. Once again, I had two problems with the characters. The first was a Hispanic taxi driver named Nando: he was so obviously stereotyped throughout the story that I can't help but feel it was a little racist. Nando has a billy-goat beard, barbed wire tattoos, and says things like "a'ight", "holmes" and "esse". While I know that some people say these things, some of them hispanic, a lot of it is just broad generalization. Most of the time Nando is portrayed as being this dumb gofer who helps out Will for some reason or other. The other character problem for me is that Frost seems to think that Samoan's are some kind of master race. The entire security force for the new school Will goes to is comprised of Samoans and the reason given for this is that they are: "huge and agile and strong enough to tear a bus apart with their bare hands" as well as "friendly, trustworthy, and incorruptible". I'm sorry, I actually had to stop there. While I will never say that those things aren't true about a person, saying it out loud is like saying Klingon's all stink and that munchkins all like lollypops. I think you get what I mean.

As far as the writing goes, I have a big problem with the fact that Will seems to just include himself in a group whenever he feels threatened. At one point he’s talking about people wanting to kill him and tells his roommates "We" have to do something and they just accept it as true as if they've known him longer than a hundred pages. At one point they even go down to talk to a man who just tried to kill him as if he’s just going to stand there and go "Oh yeah, sorry about that, my bad". A lot of the conclusions Will comes up with are completely unfounded because there was no real linearity to him discovering it, once again concreting my disdain for urban fantasy not involving a detective.

Which brings me to my last point to make before I stop my spewing of literary rage, and I think this is a big part. Will gets noticed by this school because he scored exceptionally high on a test. This would generally paint Will as being smarter that the average bear, but it's never shown. Not once does Will actually do anything moderately intelligent. This isn't to say that he is "stupid", though at some points in the book I had to stop reading and shake my book like an African lion trying to break a zebras neck, but he never actually shows that he's intelligent. This holds true for the other characters in the book. While they all have special skill, most of them have nothing to do with intelligence really. It all had a feeling of convenience: Will needed to be discovered by the school so that he could go and learn about other things. This was a common theme throughout the book: Will is constantly discovering the things he can do just when he has a problem, or help comes at the exact moment when he needs it, or there is a RULE that applies to just that situation. A story can be built around a lot of things, but having them built around convenience is the biggest Deus ex Machina crap that you can do and it's just lazy writing to boot.

While I can't deny that The Paladin Prophecy by Mark Frost had an interesting premise, I have to say that I don't believe Frost has enough expertise in the field of Fantasy to do the story justice. I think that every author at some point should take an expedition out into the world of mages and beasts, but I think Frost might have taken his first step too soon. He shouldn't be pitied or shown the way back, but I do think he should be pat on the head, scooted to the corner and given a cookie while the big boys get to work. Personally, I just feel the book had “bad book” stamped over every page like the world’s most travelled passport, and I don’t suggest it to anyone. A lot of these things can be marked off by claiming the book is targeted for young adults, but that’s a crap excuse. Young Adult writers should be held to a higher standard than adult writers in my opinion.

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