Werner's Reviews > Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom

Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom by Tim Byrd
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's review
May 09, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: childrens, science-fiction
Recommended to Werner by: The author
Recommended for: Kids who like adventure stories

Lester Dent meets H. P. Lovecraft in this adventure yarn, with a sizable dollop of Eoin Colfer thrown in: in tone, style and reading level --and to a degree in essential conception, although the Wildes, unlike the Fowls, are resolutely law-abiding and ethical-- this book reminded me of Artemis Fowl. Like the latter, it's aimed primarily at pre-teen readers, and should prove equally popular with them. Indeed, my rating above is based on the author's skillful appeal to this audience; while I did like it (and better than Colfer's series-opener!), my rating based strictly on my own reaction would have been three stars --it lacked the amount of texture and character development that it usually takes to earn four stars from me. That wouldn't be a problem for most kids, though.

Doc Wilde, adventurer and scientific polymath, is based on Lester Dent's Doc Savage character from the early modern adventure pulps (I haven't read any of L. Dent's work myself --though this book whetted my interest in doing so). Here, the challenge he must confront is posed by an extraterrestrial, amphibious Elder God from beyond our universe, itching to break into our universe and wreak havoc, and invested with all of the Lovecraftian trappings that Cthulhu Mythos fans (like me!) will readily recognize and eat up with a spoon. :-) But Doc is accompanied in his adventures by his 12 and 10 year-old kids Brian and Wren, an element missing in Byrd's pulp fiction models, but calculated to appeal to an audience of their peers. Now, even though these kids are mentally and physically trained better than most adults, they're still kids; some readers will find it unrealistic that a parent would expose them to that degree of danger, even granting that he's a male parent (Mrs. Wilde is dead years ago --if she were alive, I suspect she'd have enthusiastic objections!), and will feel that if he did, he should be prosecuted by social services for reckless endangerment. :-) Those readers have a case, but it misses the point: this is essentially a child's fantasy, a literary daydream of what they could do with that kind of training and a parent willing to let them use it. And their identification with heroic kids who make a difference in the outcome of the situation --as Brian and Wren do here-- isn't a bad thing.

The short chapters that one reviewer complained of don't actually make for a choppy narrative, because the story flows in a quick-moving current; the chapter divisions just correspond to what in some works would be a skipped line to indicate a scene change, and often emphasize an ominous or cliffhanger moment. (I wasn't bothered, either, by the occasional use of unconventional typescript for emphasis --it wasn't overused, and for me didn't interfere with readability.) Obviously, the one-sentence claim of a role for the book's Elder God figure in the supposed evolution of earthly life clashes with a creationist view, as does Lovecraft's own passing mention, in At the Mountains of Madness, of the supposed role of his aliens in the origin of mankind; but in both places, this isn't a major thrust of the story as a whole nor essential to the plot, and so can simply be passed over. (After all, if you can accept the idea that a child could be trained to "see" in the dark by echolocation --though not as well as a bat can-- temporary suspension of disbelief for anything won't be a big problem!)

All of the members of the Wilde family are larger-than-life characters, as tends to be the case in adventure fiction, and they're delineated mostly in terms of what they can do, without much attention to their interior life; but again, that's a characteristic of the genre. Byrd writes well, giving you enough detail to bring the characters and scenes to life but not to interfere with a quick narrative pace; he keeps action scenes and physical jeopardies frequent, so there's never a dull moment, and the situations are genuinely demanding for the characters (Wren's long crawl through a narrow subterranean tunnel in pitch darkness, for instance, isn't for the claustrophobic). Despite the Lovecraftian theme, he wisely eschews preaching cosmic despair -- confronted by a universe-threatening ancient evil of great power and malevolence, the Wildes don't sink into suicidal existential angst; they just set their jaws and kick some amphibian butt. :-) There are a number of other good touches here: I liked the strong family bond among the Wildes, their ecological concern, their preference for not killing if they can avoid it, and the positive portrayal of homeschooling; and I also appreciated the fact that Wren was an equal member of the team, not excluded from adventuring because of her gender, as was often the fate of females in the adventure fiction of the 19th and early 20th centuries. (Grandma's no slouch at akido, either. :-)) Byrd has just the right note of deadpan humor; and like Edgar Rice Burroughs, he's adept at switching focus between separated characters to create cliff- hanger situations. The climax and denouement are well-done. But where the Wildes really won my heart was when I read, "Like Doc and the kids, the grandparents Wilde liked only one thing more than adventuring: reading." As a librarian (and fellow reader), I LIKE this family! :-)
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Comments (showing 1-9 of 9) (9 new)

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message 1: by Henrik (new)

Henrik Aaaargh. Another book added to my to-read pile-almost-a-mountain.

Great review, Werner. You did it again:-)

message 2: by Mary JL (new) - added it

Mary JL Werner: If you do try a Doc Savage, try for "Land of Always Night". I read it age 13 and it is one of the best.

If you can't find that specific one, try to find one published from 1934 to 1939, when the series was at its' best. After the War started, the tone of the novels changed,imho, as did ther quality.

Werner Thanks, Henrik! And thanks for the tip, Mary JL; I'll try to add that one to my to-read shelf.

On reflection, I've decided that, regardless of "amount of texture and character development," I'd jolly well give this one four stars based on the amount of fun I had reading it (not just on the amount of fun a younger reader would have). Sometimes it's nice to be a kid again, and there's no shame in admitting it!

 Danielle The Book Huntress (Back to the Books) Great review, Werner. Like Henrik, I can't turn this book down now!

Werner Thanks, Danielle! I know Tim would be pleased to hear that. :-) Hope you enjoy the book!

The Pirate Ghost (Formerly known as the Curmudgeon) The Frogs of Doom? Okay, creative titling. I agree with it being good to be a kid again, that's how I felt reading "Earthman Jack."

Werner Hugh, if you read the book, you'll see the reason for the title. :-)

The Pirate Ghost (Formerly known as the Curmudgeon) So, you're saying this book is Knee-deep in action? :)

I'm sorry... I just couldn't help it.

Werner You could say that it's knee-deep in action. :-)

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