For centuries, Great Britain has been spitting out a parade of popular children's fantasy books as if they were going out of fashion: Alice in Wonderland, The Hobbit, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Chronicles of Prydain, His Dark Materials, Harry Potter, The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Derkholm series, Artemis Fowl, the list goes on and on. This is to say nothing of the many British folktales and legends that gave birth to the fantasy genre. Unfortunately, even with gems like The Wizard of Oz or newer creations such as Fablehaven or The Spyderwick Chronicles under our belt, Americans have yet to challenge the Brits for sheer creativity or longevity in children's literature. This is very surprising considering the vast wealth of talented American writers who have made their mark in other genres of fiction. Perhaps, now, that we have entered a new millennium, the pendulum is beginning to swing.
Enter James Todd Cochrane's Max and the Gatekeeper, an unheralded new star among children's fantasy literature that is sure to draw its fair share of readers. Max and the Gatekeeper is the latest among a slew of children's fantasy books featuring a boy-wizard theme. But unlike its predecessor Harry Potter, Max and the Gatekeeper takes us on a thrill ride that explores technological, as well as mystical concepts. It is as much a literary successor to Star Wars as Harry Potter.
12 year old Max Rigdon is sent away by his mother to spend the summer with his grandfather. But no sooner than he arrives, he discovers there is a plot to kill him and his grandfather by a mysterious order of malevolent wizards and a vast assortment of other nefarious foes who are bent on controlling the universe. Max quickly learns that the enemy wants to kill him and his grandfather so that they can take control of a one-of-a-kind machine that allows users to travel to different worlds.
Max meets several new friends who want to help to keep him safe, including his Tomboyish, but cute neighbor Cindy. But Max must learn magic and an array of other impressive skills in order to survive the deadly threats against his life. His grandfather presents to him a dangerous choice to save a host of worlds, not the least of which is his own. But ultimately, Max must decide if he is willing to take on such a dangerous task knowing that billions of worlds and countless races are depending on him to protect them from the enemy's plot to dominate them.
I found Max and the Gatekeeper to be an amazing book. At first, I feared it was just going to be another wanna be Harry Potter clone. But this book turned out to be so much more. This book engages its readers from the very beginning and takes them on a wild adventure throughout many vastly different and exotic worlds. Danger is always just a breath away and Max is a character we grow to love and care about. There is never a dull moment in this book and, for me, reading the ending was better than eating chocolate.
Kudos to Mr. Cochrane for creating such an intelligently written and emotionally stirring book. Of the many children's fantasy books I've read this year, I am looking forward most to reading the sequel to Max and the Gatekeeper. Anyone who loves a great fantasy thriller should check this book out too.