Self-Imposed Summer Reading Book #5: The Merchant of Death (Pendragon #1) by DJ MacHale
Before I read this book this summer, I had probably recommended it to 10 kids, if not more. Some of these kids were young enough that reading a book with the title The Merchant of Death was still shocking. I told them not to be worried–I knew from the teens that I work with that it is not a scary book (particularly) and that the series is well-loved for a reason. Two high school students recommended this book to me and by proxy, to all the kids who walk through the doors of my library. My question while reading this book: why do kids love it?
Answer: It’s non-threatening fantasy with a lot of action and the usual moral quandaries thrown in. One of the often lauded qualities of fantasy, especially high fantasy, is that it makes the reader work. This work is often deciphering the way the fantastical world of the book works. What is different about the Pendragon books is that Bobby Pendragon and his friends do most of the deciphering for you. It is certainly not the first book to have a naive narrator help explain what is going on. However, something about the combination of Bobby’s journal and the reading of Bobby’s journal by his friends left on Earth really overexplains the fantasy world if you’re an adult or an experienced fantasy reader. It drove me a little insane, but I could see how inexperienced fantasy readers might really be drawn to the writing style.
The fantasy world itself is fun! Even though I wanted to strangle Bobby Pendragon by the time I hit the last page, I very nearly found myself reading the “sneak preview” of the next book which is set in a world with some giant killer sharks. Who doesn’t love books about giant killer sharks? And yet…Bobby Pendragon is not my kind of narrator.
Bottom line: I will still recommend this book to kids–in fact, I will probably be able to hand sell it to even more kids now that I know the whole story. But I cannot spend another 300 pages with Bobby Pendragon.