Friday, July 2, 2010

Chosen Ones by Alister McGrath

book cover

The Aedyn Chronicles:
Chosen Ones
by Alister McGrath

Hardback: 202 pages
Publisher: ZonderKidz
First Released: 2010

Source: Won from a website contest held by the publisher.

Book Description (my take):
Peter and Julia are sent to spend the summer holiday with their grandparents in Oxford. Peter spends his days experimenting with his science kit and talking with his grandfather about naval battles. Julia spends her days reading fantasy novels in the courtyard garden that she saw glow on a moonless night.

One night, Peter and Julia are drawn to the glowing garden pool and jump in. They wake up on an island beach, go into the woods, and find a ruined garden just like theirs. An ancient, magical man appears to Julia and tells her that they're the deliverers who will set the people of Aedyn free from their slavery to three cruel and selfish lords.

The two children must overcome their own ambition and selfishness to save the people and lead them in a great battle to overthrow the lords.

My Review:
Chosen Ones is a Middle Grade fantasy novel, but I think kids ages 5-9 would actually enjoy the story (being read to them) the most. There were some black and white drawings of the events in the story, but unfortunately they weren't that accurate to the details in the text.

The first half of the story was full of detail--most of it unnecessary to the story--which slowed the action. Very little happened. Many of the details were also very obviously based off of various Chronicles of Narnia books, but the details the author chose to mimic were not the sense-of-wonder inspiring ones. The kids (one named Peter) jump into a glowing pool at a Professor's house in England and end up on an island that has smart (though not talking) animals and people and they're expected to fulfill a prophecy. In the second half of the novel, the action picked up and the story became original.

The characters tended to be one-dimensional; they were defined by one trait and didn't act beyond it. Also, most of the potential crisis points where solved very easily and quickly, so the suspense was lacking in my opinion--though young children might find it exciting.

I sometimes didn't understand why the children or villains acted the way they did. For example, no explanation was given for why our hero children (aged 13 and 14) still went to the castle after they ran into evil warriors that were clearly from the castle. Also, there were a number of unrealistic non-fantasy elements. Most were minor things that weren't critical to the story, but others were critical--like a slave being able to create a complex technology that's new to him from a sketch in one day.

There were some quotes from the Bible, though anyone not familiar with the Bible probably wouldn't recognize that's what they were, and some Bible-like parallels (like a Passover-like meal of remembrance). The slaves worshiped a Lord of Hosts, their name for their Creator god. The two hero children had one magical power, and another, good character could do magic. There was no bad language or sex. Overall, the novel was clean reading and would probably be enjoyed by young children.

A Teen's Review:
I read this story out loud to a 12-year-old girl. She fidgeted during the first half but became more interested during the second half. Throughout the story, she said things like, "Why did they do that? That doesn't make sense" or "Yeah, right, no one's that dumb" or "No kid would know how to build that!" At the end, she said, "I still don't get such-and-such." However, she said she did enjoy the story (though she's not interested in reading it again--usually she re-reads books that she loves), and she'd be interested in reading the second book in the series.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
Once upon a time an old house stood in the English town of Oxford. It was built close by the ancient city walls, ivy growing over its stonework and mullioned windows, and was the sort of place with lots of dark corners and hidden stairways. And in this house lived a professor, his wife, and an old tabby cat.

The professor's special interest was reading about ancient battles, both at land and at sea. His ramshackle study was filled with paintings of famous naval engagements. The professor had never actually been to sea but rather liked the idea of it, and no one was prouder when his son became a captain in the Royal British Navy. His wife was the cozy, grandmotherly sort of person who specializes in scrumptious teas and biscuits. She had jolly round cheeks and an enormous lap for children to fall into.

On one particular day, not all that long ago, the house was all in a flurry of preparation for the arrival of two special visitors: their grandchildren. Their mother had died not quite a year ago, and with their father off at sea they needed a place to spend the school holidays. The professor's wife had spent the morning in preparation, airing out sheets and blankets, sweeping floors, and dusting cabinets. The professor had spent the morning choosing interesting books to leave in the spare bedroom. For Peter, aged fourteen, he had selected a history of Admiral Nelson's tactics at the Battle of Trafalgar. It had been a bit more difficult for him to find a suitable book for Julia, aged thirteen, but finally he chose a fine book on ancient Greek politics and left it on her bedside table. His wife saw it as she placed a vase of freshly cut flowers from the garden by Julia's bed and hastily replaced it with a copy of Alice in Wonderland.

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