Wednesday, January 10, 2007
REVIEW: Crystal Doors
by Rebecca Moesta and Kevin J. Anderson
Publisher: Little, Brown
Book Review Format
Gwen and Vic are fourteen-year-old “twin cousins”—that is, cousins who happened to be born on the same day—who have been living with Vic’s father since the tragic deaths of Gwen’s parents and the disappearance of Vic’s mother. When Vic’s father, a scientist, starts to fear that they may be in danger, he attempts to open a door to another world using mysterious crystals—but accidentally sends only the cousins, leaving him behind. Now stuck on the beautiful island of Elantya, Gwen and Vic try to figure out how to get in contact with Vic’s father and get back home—but before they can do that, they’ll be swept into a war between the island and an evil aquatic race known as the Merlons.
The first book of a trilogy (what else?), Crystal Doors starts out strongly. The protagonists are charismatic and entertaining. Also, while both have faint hints of archetypes in their personality, they have enough charm and personality to stand on their own. Gwen is an intelligent, strong female character who is the mature voice of reason of the cousins and has a tendency to get a bit too worried about everything being ‘logical'. Vic, on the other hand, is snarky, laidback, and gets by with a mix of luck and ingenuity that tends to kick in at the last minute. Their personalities bounce off each other well, and their unique skills and ways of thinking are proven quite handy in the adventures they encounter.
The pacing in the first half of the book also goes at a fast pace, urging you to keep reading with great word building and a good plot. Although Elantya is reminiscent of other island utopias that crop up in fantasy frequently (I don’t think it’s an accident that its name sounds like Atlantis), the country’s position as a gateway between worlds and a well thought out social structure helps it to stand out among other fantasy worlds. The magic system in the book is also well thought out—the crystals mentioned in the title not only serving to open the doors between worlds, but also being used for other magic in the book. I particularly liked how the crystals were used to make ink for magic scrolls, and how the scrolls were used throughout the books. Magic in fantasy has a can at times be almost all-powerful, so the carefully thought out rules about what can’t and can be done with magic in Elantya help to keep the question “why aren’t they just using magic??” from ever coming up, and keeps the action intense.
Ironically enough, however, that’s exactly what slows down the pacing about half-way through the book: the action. While the first half of the book has a few intense moments, most of it is spent on building the intricate world and magic system, so when the book suddenly ratchets up several levels in intensity, which feels incredibly jarring. Not only is it intense, it’s also nearly nonstop for the rest of the book—you barely have a chance to mentally collect yourself until the heroes are thrust into another battle or dangerous situation. Also, some of the battles serve little purpose in the plot other than to show what a threat the Merlons are, so it almost feels as though the plot has been put a standstill during the constant battling. It’s not that the battles aren’t exciting. They are. One particularly memorable passage is a desperate struggle against voracious flying fish appropriately called ‘flying piranhas’—which are probably one of the most impressively terrifying creatures I’ve read in a book. No, the problem is that there’s so many action scenes all at once that it bogs everything down. It probably would have been better to have the battles spaced out among the world building, or to shorten one of the battles.
Another weak point of the book is the characters. Although Vic and Gwen are strong characters, almost all of the other characters populating the book feel like characters we’ve seen before. The snobby prince? Check. The quiet psychic girl? Check. The Amazonian warrior? Check, and complete with animal skins. The absent-minded professor? There are two!
The use of archetypes would have been fine if the characters had been fleshed out more, and there is some character development throughout the book, but the characters have very little unique characteristics that help them remain very remarkable. It’s quite possible that these characters will be expanded upon in the next book. In fact, Lyssandra (the psychic girl, and one of the first characters introduced) starts to be fleshed out more towards the end of the book, so it’s quite possible. But for this book, the character development for the characters is weak enough that it feels as though Vic and Gwen are two real people trapped on an island with the ghosts of literary characters that have come before.
There also are a few moments where the characters make illogical choices to further the plot, or the foreshadowing in the book is just too obvious. If a vessel that contained an important shipment was sunk mid-voyage by Merlons, would you put a class of beginning students and a few teachers out to sea on an ancient vessel, with very few weapons and a collection of (mostly) weak spells? If your answer is “yes,” I hope you’re not working in education. Also, a big secret behind one of the characters is actually fairly obvious if you’re paying attention while reading.
All in all, Crystal Doors is by no means a bad book. It doesn’t do anything that’s going to change the genre as we know it—nor do I think it tries to. It’s a fun fantasy story with a cleverly thought out world that seeks merely to entertain. If you’re looking for a deep, thought-provoking tale that’s the equivalent of a feast, you’ll probably be disappointed. But it makes for a fine literary appetizer.