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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Because I'm Not Vindictive At All ...

(Image from Indiebound)

I don't consider myself to be the vindictive sort. Or the type to hold a grudge (Besides the lady who had the gall to suggest my beautiful infant daughter might be cross-eyed, of course, because she is still on my black list...). Other than that, though, I'm pretty forgiving. Which is a good thing for author Christopher Pike. You see, way back when I was a kid, he was my favorite author. He wrote YA mystery/suspenses that kept me up reading way, way past my bedtime. I loved his stories so much I wrote him a long, gushing fan letter, laying it on so thick I was sure he'd send me a reply the moment he received my note. When I didn't hear from him, it crushed my little heart. Obviously, I'm over it now. Still, when I received Pike's newest novel for review, I have to admit I almost didn't read it. Just to show him what it feels like to be ignored. Luckily, my magnanimous nature won out. Or maybe it's not so lucky since The Secret of Ka doesn't get very high marks from me. I just want to be clear on this: It's not sour grapes. Not at all. Really, though, it's not. It's not.

A departure from both his mysteries of old and more recent ventures into vampire territory, Pike's newest is a fantastical adventure, Aladdin style. The story begins with a very bored teenager. Fifteen-year-old Sara Wilcox has traveled with her father to Turkey, where he will be spending the summer working at the hydroelectric plant his company runs in Istanbul. Although he promised to spend all his free time with Sara, she's barely seen her father. Wiling away the hours alone in a hotel isn't how she wants to use her summer vacation, so when she spies an opportunity to do something, she takes it. Bribing a flustered errand boy to take her to her father's job site, Sara not only makes a (very good-looking) new friend, but she comes across an amazing artifact: a magic carpet. Amesh, Sara's partner-in-crime, suggests selling the rug on the black market. Sara can't stand to part with it - it belongs in a museum. After she's done with it, of course.

The more Sara studies the carpet, the stronger her connection to the object becomes. It's almost as if it's beckoning to her, begging her to discover its secrets. When she and Amesh allow it to guide them away from Istanbul, they're shocked to find themselves on a secret island controlled by djinns (genies). The possibility of having all his wishes granted proves to be too much temptation for Amesh, who unknowingly unleashes an ancient evil into the human world. Desperate to save her friend, Sara must pit her own cleverness against the conniving djinn. If she can't stop the powerful genies, it could mean disaster. On a global level. In the meantime, she's learning truths that are changing everything she's ever known about her family, her world and, most of all, herself.

There's so much potential here for a sweeping, richly-imagined fantasy epic that its poor execution is almost painful to behold. Pike's characters are flat, annoying creatures without dimension, personality or complexity. The dialogue is stiff, the prose lazy, the plot flimsy, and the know-it-all carpet makes for a mystery that is solved way too easily. What The Secret of Ka resembles more than anything is a rough draft. Its premise definitely intrigues, the story just needs some serious editing and polishing. I know from personal reading experience that Pike can do better than this. Way better. Instead of a fan letter, maybe I need to offer up my manuscript-improvement services. Think I'll get a reply this time? Yeah, me neither.

(Readalikes: Reminded me a little of The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud)

Grade: D

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for language (no F-bombs) and some sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love: I received an ARC of The Secret of Ka from the generous folks at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Thank you!


  1. I think I completely missed the Christopher Pike phenomena in the 90's, because I don't think I've read ANY of them. I wasn't much into teen thriller novels when I was younger, I guess! I read some of R.L. Stine's teen horrors and maybe a couple Lois Duncan books and that was it, haha!

    Sorry to see that this one didn't like up to your expectations! I think for me, because I don't have a nostalgia for them, I sort of assume CP's books are going to be...uh...poorly executed? Because of other reviews I've read (mostly of people rereading his 90's books again when they're adults). But still, I know how disappointing it is when a book stinks and you don't want it to!

  2. I loved Christopher Pike back in the day! This sounds like one of his to skip though...

  3. Anastasia - Oooh, I used to love Lois Duncan as well. I wonder what it would be like to read those books now - would I like them as much as an adult as I did as a teen? Maybe I should do an experiment ...

    I was mostly disappointed in this one because it had a good premise. The writing was just SO lazy. Hate that.

    Kathie - I know! He WAS my favorite. Past tense. *Sigh*

  4. Darn, the premise sounds so good! It's so disappointing when books that sound so delicious end up being duds.

  5. Books that have excellent premises but are poorly executed are so disappointing! I've only read a couple of his books, and was never particularly enamored by any of them.

  6. Hi,

    What a cute blog. Thanks for coming by and following. Im following you back. You should give NaNoWriMo a try next year. You might be surprise on how well you will do.

    Have a great day.

  7. Hilarious review. No shame in holding authorly grudges. I still can't read John Grisham books after hating the ending to one of his books fifteen years ago - and that's not nearly as personal as not answering a letter.
    Too bad this book doesn't match Pike's capabilities. It's nice to see him try something a little different, but too bad it didn't work out.


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