The Paladin Prophecy and The Paladin Prophecy: Alliance, by Mark Frost

The first two books in Mark Frost's Paladin Prophecy series go for the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to storytelling, mashing together fantasy (angels and demons!), science fiction (evil geneticists!), and action/suspense (martial arts smackdowns!) into a frenetic but entertaining literary roller-coaster ride.

The Paladin Prophecy and The Paladin Prophecy: Alliance center around Will West, a seemingly ordinary boy whose parents have raised him to live by certain rules: always keep his head down, never stand out, don't get close to anyone. But when Will gets an inexplicably off-the-charts score on a standardized test, he is approached by a representative from The Center, a secretive but immensely influential school for gifted teens. Ordinarily, this is exactly the kind of notice Will's parents have taught him to avoid at all costs, but something has clearly gone very, very wrong with Mr. and Mrs. West, and The Center suddenly seems like the safest place for Will to be—particularly when he meets his new roommates Ajay, Nick, Elise, and Brooke, who offer him the kind of friendship and support he has always dreamed of having.

While I could quibble about the author's frequent gaps in logic, my biggest problem with this series is the way Frost treats his female characters. Will is the catalyst for the kids' adventures, Ajay provides the brains, and Nick the brawn (and the one-liners). Brooke and Elise, on the other hand, are occasionally useful, but their major contribution to the plot seems to be providing Will with people to rescue and opportunities for Betty-or-Veronica?-style romantic indecision. (Oh, and making cocoa when things are stressful.) My hopes rose when Alliance introduced a female villain, but she spends most of her time sneering and creeping out the other characters by walking around naked, which doesn't really translate into a compellingly three-dimensional character. The third book in this series is clearly going to take one of the above characters in a new direction, but I would strongly urge Mr. Frost to run his ideas past a bunch of female pre-readers first, because thus far his stories feel both dated and, frankly, more than a little sexist.

If I set aside my issues with the female characters, I can see that these books have their strengths. The action sequences are exciting and easy to follow, Nick and Ajay provide plenty of amusing banter, and Will is a pleasant, if bland, protagonist. Random House clearly expects big things from this series, and thus far it has delivered: sales are good, reviews are positive(..ish), and I'm told there's a movie in the works. There's obviously a healthy market for action-heavy fantasy/sci-fi written for teenage boys, and if that's all the author is aiming for—congratulations, mission accomplished. But until Mr. Frost figures out how to write a truly interesting female character he's not going to be able to compete with authors like Suzanne Collins, Rick Riordan, J.K. Rowling, or Eoin Colfer, all of whom do a much better job of reaching out to readers of all ages and both genders.

Review based on publisher-provided copies.
Posted by: Julianka


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