Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Stones of Abraxas - K Osborn Sullivan

K Osborn Sullivan's Stones of Abraxas was rather disappointing. Before reading it, I had seen a review which revealed that unlike most children's quest fantasy tales, the two protagonists go off on a magical quest and their parents go too. I had high hopes that it would prove to be a subgenre-busting debut novel, but it was not to be.

David Stanhope is 12 years old and about to start the long summer vacation. He enjoys squabbling with his 14 year old sister, Amanda; they live in the suburbs of Chicago with their parents. His mother is the head librarian at his middle school and his father is the shop teacher at the high school. We're told this, and a great deal more about David, his family, friends, and neighbours in the first chapter of Stones of Abraxas, but most of the information there proves irrelevant as it's barely mentioned again, which is frustrating. Instead, whilst the children are helping their mother to find their camping gear (their father is at an out-of-town teacher's conference), in preparation for spending a month at their cottage that's badly in need of repair, they find a large ruby on a chain, which it turns out to have unexpected powers. It transports them to an alternate world, known as Abraxas, where different species control different-coloured Stones. If the Stones of Abraxas are joined with a large golden shield, then the evil magician, Adrian the Deceiver, will use them to make him invulnerable. At this point, I nearly stopped reading, Whoever heard of an evil magician named "Adrian" ? Sullivan invented some quite extraordinary names, so why not use one of them for the evil magician ? Was she trying to make the point that even the mundane can be evil ? I don't know, but I do know that I could not take seriously a bad guy named Adrian as I kept thinking of Sue Townsend's Adrian Mole !

I also could not see the point of the children's parents coming to Abraxas with them, since both of them largely ignored their children in order to attend meetings of the Shield Council, who are desperate to find ways of stopping Adrian from acquiring the Ruby, or else they reverted to their Terran selves, with Dad roaming around looking for the Abraxan equivalent of electronic bugging devices, and Mom spending hours in the library, looking for a book that explained how to destroy the Stones without destroying both the worlds. The adults are worried as it's clear there's a spy in Annwyn Castle (and the spy was flagged up so far in advance I'd have been more surprised if the person who was unmasked had been someone else), but the children are still allowed to roam around with whomever they choose and wherever they please, with the result that they nearly get themselves killed on occasion.

I realise this is Sullivan's first book (she's planning a series of five books set in this world) and that first books are rarely brilliant, but I was disappointed that it didn't live up to its potential. I've read some brilliant books this year, several of them Cybils nominations, that have gripped me from start to finish, and left me desperate for more, but this book was not one of them. Of course, I'm just one reader, and other readers may find much to enjoy in this book, so don't let my disappointment with it put you off trying it for yourself. I really hope that Sullivan's later books live up to the potential of this one.

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