Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Root Karbunkulus Lacks Potter's Magic, But Who Doesn't?


Root Karbunkulus knows she's different. After all, she's an orphan living in a "filthy halfhouse," where even the yard "was a perfectly divided lot of plant life, though of what species no one could quite describe other than 'Insolent' and 'Savage'" (13-14). She spends her days slaving away for her two cantankerous aunts and defending herself in the schoolyard. Different? You bet, but until the day she answers the cry of a telephone no one else can hear, she doesn't realize that being different isn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it can be quite exciting, even excellent.

The Questory of Root Karbunkulus by Kamilla Reid begins with Root's life-changing phone call, a summons to join a magical treasure hunt. Although she is more than willing to do anything that gets her away from her cruel guardians, Root is still shocked when she is suddenly transported to the stunning world of Dre'Amm. Soon she is trudging her way toward a castle along with a line of other boys and girls, all of whom are buzzing about the competition they have been invited to join. In Dre'Amm, where magic exists in profusion, Root finds herself at a disadvantage. She is a Dearth - a non-magicial being.

Still, she's expected to join a team and begin the first of 6 quests to find treasures of the Dre'Amm world. It's a game, a contest, the winners of which will receive certain fame. Root's team, the Valadors, consists of herself and two boys - Lian, the bullied son of a nobleman, and Dwyn, an orphaned chick magnet from Root's world. Together, they head to a secret library, hoping to gain information that will put them ahead of the other teams. To their disappointment, another group has arrived first - the competition will remain neck-and-neck from this point on, as the teams scour the land for clues to Kalliope's treasure. Along the way, Root will learn about the strange world of Dre'Amm - her birthplace - with its wide variety of animals (including two-headed snakes, albino gorillas, talking cats and vicious rodents), beings (Nods, ghosts, Sea Wraiths, Bulks, Bredins, etc.), and other strange inhabitants (interactive maps, animate alarm clocks, mischevious shadows, and snoopy wisteria vines). She will also learn about her own strengths, fears and abilities. As she battles blood-thirsty monsters, greedy Savages and a terrifying madwoman, Root will discover how different - how wonderfully different - she really is.

Action is king in Reid's first novel, which suffers from lack of character development and a weak purpose/theme. Its quick tempo and death-defying stunts will keep readers turning pages, eager to find out what happens next. It drags a bit in the middle, but accelerates in the last third, which had me flipping pages at breakneck (finger?) speed (and marveling at the brilliance of Reid's most original creation - the Simp). I definitely would have liked more depth from the main characters, but the treasure hunt kept me distracted enough that I didn't get too disappointed. I liked the idea of a magical version of The Amazing Race (from where Reid got her inspiration), where kids with untapped abilities compete in a dangerous, thrilling sprint to the finish line.

In general, I really liked this book. It's a fun adventure story that will entertain adults and kids alike. My biggest beef is that the novel (1) didn't answer fundamental questions and (2) lacked unification and purpose. As I was reading, I kept wondering, Why was Root suddenly plucked out of her normal life to join a treasure hunt in an alternative world? Why would a bunch of kids be competing in a dangerous, life and death-type competition anyway? If the contest's only reward is fame, why does a simple girl like Root care? And, what happened to her parents? None of these questions are answered sufficiently for me. My second complaint is harder to define, but I kept wondering, What's the point? The kids are competing in a game, the outcome of which has little significance. They're not battling to change the world, defeat enemies or triumph over evil, they are only trying to win a game. Main characters are supposed to have something they will give anything to achieve; Root seems goal-less, not really caring whether she wins the game or not. In my mind, this shaky purpose lacks the urgency and importance of those in other books of this genre (i.e. Harry Potter, The Bartimaeus Trilogy, the Mister Monday series, etc.). I don't know if that makes any sense, but basically the plot seemed to meander without a definitive purpose - I kept telling myself, "So what? Maybe they win, maybe they don't. What does it matter?" Maybe I'm being too harsh, but those were my thoughts as I was reading.

Despite some issues, The Questory of Root Karbunkulus is an entertaining read that is getting rave reviews (and I'm not dissenting, I'm just saying I wanted more from the author). I would have liked a tighter plot, more structural unity, and better developed characters, but overall, it's an engrossing adventure with some interesting new tricks. It lacks the magic of Harry Potter, but what doesn't? I'm not as enthusiastic about Root as I wanted to be, but I'm still willing to hang on and see where her next quest will take me ...


Grade: B



1 comment:

  1. Nice review! You said everything I was struggling to find words for about the lack of any greater structure to the book/plot. Granted, its the first in a series, so she can't give too much away up front, but on the other hand, other YA fantasy series first novels have managed to be more than "go here, fight this monster, go there, fight that monster", so there's got to be a balance somewhere that Root Karbunkulus just didn't hit for me.

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