Miriam's Reviews > The Revenge of the Shadow King

The Revenge of the Shadow King by Derek Benz
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's review
Dec 15, 2011

it was ok
bookshelves: borrowed
Read in January, 2009

I was loaned this book by a friend's daughter who recommended it very highly. I loaned her a book in return and set to explore what 13 year old fantasy enthusiasts are enjoying nowadays. Now I'll admit it's been a while since I was thirteen and my tastes have expanded and refined since then but I firmly believe that even at 13 I would have felt this book was mediocre at best.
The plot in The Revenge of the Shadow King is the standard 'young boy discovers he has magical powers and a destiny to fulfill. He and his friends are plunged into adventure'. I have no problem with an author using a rote plot, especially in children's books where a child can allow themselves to explore the fantastic elements of a story more deeply when the outline of the plot is familiar to them. However when a standard plot is used the details of the story become extra important, both to set the story apart from the thousands of others just like it and to create a story that, while being familiar, is still interesting. Unfortunately it seems the Benz and Lewis were not up to the task of sculpting these details and created a book that is uninspiring, disjointed, and frustrating.

At the beginning of the book I saw Harry Potter similarities on almost every page. A couple similarities include Max, the seemingly very average 11 year old main character with a broken and unaffectionate family. His three friends which include a startlingly familiar spunky, sassy, know-it-all, bookworm Natalia, and Ernie, the gawky, clumsy, cowardly comic relief. The third friend, Harley who fits nicely under "good natured muscle" doesn't have a direct Harry Potter parallel which is dismally small relief from the other similarities which go on to include an evil teacher and "slimy" arch nemesis classmate who relies on his dumb but strong sidekick.

In addition to lifting the main characters directly from the most successful series in the genre the villains and "heroes of the past" are taken from legend and myth. Like the rote plot this would not bother me if their character development did not seem to be based solely around the desperate hope that the reader is already familiar with Titania, Oberon, King Arthur, and Morgan Le Fay. The reader must then be willing to bend the traditional myths around these characters for the sake of a shaky plot. A bit of a tall and confusing order ask from a preteen audience.

Benz and Lewis seem unable to maintain a consistent narrative tone throughout the novel. Most of the book is written with a passive narrator who lets the children go about their adventure free of interference but every so often the narrator sprinkles in confusing snippets or active narration, along the lines of "little did they know..." Stylistically this creates a confusing and frustrating reading experience where the reader is jerked out of the flow of the story when confronted with these inconsistencies.

One aspect in which The Revenge of the Shadow King differs from Harry Potter is that Max and his four friends are constantly being rescued by adults whereas Harry and his troupe received very little help from grownups. While there definitely can be debate over what message is being sent, as a reader it meant that the characters became stagnant from consistently being protected from situations that would have given them opportunities to grow. This sheltering also leads to no actual interaction with the villains and days of down time in the adventure where the children go to school, obey groundings and fail to recognize how lucky they are that the villains are apparently too incompetent to take advantage of these fabulous opportunities to rid themselves of the children who improbably manage to succeed in foiling their plans.

Genre: Fantasy
Age Group: Preteen
Characters: Max Sumner, Ernie , Natalia Romanov, Harley
Iver , Logan, Ray , Sprig, Rhiannon Heen, Morgan LaFay, Dr. Diamante Blackstone, Brooke, Gaspard Hamm.
Locations: Avalon, Minnesota; The Old Forest
Critters: Slayer Goblin, Spriggan, Shadow, Goblin, Kobold, Garden Faerie, Gargoyle, Unicorn, Werewolf.
Randiness: About as racy as Winney the Pooh.
Fright Factor: Make a quick check for the monster under the bed.

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