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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Merchant of Death (Pendragon #1) by D.J. MacHale

Bobby Pendragon is a seemingly normal fourteen-year-old boy. He has a family, a home, and even Marley, his beloved dog. But there is something very special about Bobby.

He is going to save the world.

And not just Earth as we know it. Bobby is slowly starting to realize that life in the cosmos isn’t quite what he thought it was. And before he can object, he is swept off to an alternate dimension known as Denduron, a territory inhabited by strange beings, ruled by a magical tyrant, and plagued by dangerous revolution.

If Bobby wants to see his family again, he’s going to have to accept his role as savior, and accept it wholeheartedly. Because, as he is about to discover, Denduron is only the beginning….

Released: July 15th 2010 (original hardcover pub. 2002)     Pages: 384
Publisher: Simon & Schuster                                          Source: Purchased

This series.  Just...this series.

I don't even know what I can say to do justice to my feelings for it.  I first read The Merchant of Death in fifth grade.  I can't quantify the impact it, and the other nine books, have had on me since then.  It's an absolute masterpiece of character development and complex plotting.  It shows the good guys losing to the bad guys.  It shows kids growing up to become adults in a believable way.  It shows that everyone, even the best protagonist and evilest villain, is composed of shades of gray.  Even five years after the release of the final installment in the series, it still stands as one of the best things I've ever read.  And, as you know, I read a lot of things.  

Still, I was nervous to reread this.  My fifth-grade self had different standards and tastes than I do now.  I know more about what makes good writing and good storytelling.  What if Pendragon no longer met this standard?  Then again, I had this same worry with Eragon, and it proved needless.

Yes, I did find issues with The Merchant of Death that I didn't in fifth grade.  The narration is awkward and simplistic at times.  Action sequences still take place in block paragraphs.  A few slang terms slip out that sound odd coming from a 14-year-old.  The beginning is cliche and overused--normal suburban kid gets whisked off on some grand adventure and is chosen to save everyone.

It's not perfect.  But who am I kidding?  I love it.  I had so much fun rereading this.  I forgot how completely inept Bobby is at the very beginning.  I forgot Loor's incredible sass.  The implied Press/Osa ship.  Don't tell me that's not a thing.

So many things I didn't forget just made me incredibly happy upon rereading them.  The twistiness of a certain reveal (reread=look for foreshadowing!).  The fabulousness of Osa.  Mark Dimond's endearing awkwardness.  Courtney Chetwynde, a somewhat "masculine" female character whose personality runs far deeper than just "can beat boys at sports".

Like I mentioned before, Bobby Pendragon starts out as a useless protagonist.  For much of the book, every time he tries to help, he messes up.  Big time.  Let's face it--if many of us were pulled out of our normal lives into this type of adventure, we'd probably mess everything up, too.  And yet, Bobby just keeps going.  He keeps trying.  It's believable, it's real, and it's also a lot of fun.  More than anything else, that was my reaction to this book: it's just a ridiculous amount of fun to reread.

It's worth noting that I have the advantage of knowing how the series progresses from here.  Without this, I would be far less excited about The Merchant of Death itself.  I know how much more complex it gets, though.  I've read through the next nine books of character development and writing improvement.  I've gone with Bobby and the others as they change and mature.  More than anything else, though, I have the ability to see the series as a whole and appreciate the immense planning that must have gone into it.  Everything builds on everything else, and all foundations are laid early on, setting the series up for increasingly bigger, better things.  It just gets cooler from here.  Darker, yes, but also more awesome.  I'm excited to reread the rest of the series.

Similar Books: It has a teenage-kid-has-to-save-the-world fantasy plot with crossover YA and MG appeal, like the Percy Jackson series or Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel.  It's worth noting that I was really into Artemis Fowl when I first read The Merchant of Death (if nothing else, the sass levels are pretty comparable).

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