Proud to be a tea-sippin' nerd of a mommy!
Proud to be a tea-sippin' nerd of a mommy!

Kingdom Keepers #1: Disney After Dark

by Ridley Pearson

Finn Whitman and four other teens have been hired as Disney World guides, but with an odd twist: With cutting-edge technology, they have been transformed into hologram projections capable of leading guests around the park. What begins as an exciting theme park job turns into a virtual nightmare as Finn and his pals attempt to thwart an uprising by a menacing group of Disney villains.

As someone who typically enjoys young adult books, and with all of the perks of this story being Disney themed, I was hoping to enjoy it so much more. Kingdom Keepers would sort of ebb and flow, with a few brief mini-adventures, then some conversational downtime. I felt only mildly interested in what would happen next. The adventures/fight scenes/puzzle solving reminded me of a lower-key version of Percy Jackson minus the large dose of humor, the fast-paced flow, and intelligence which kept Percy fans hooked. I never got that “wow, this book is awesome” feeling like I was expecting. It was the descriptions and explorations of the park itself as well as the mystery of the quill that kept me involved and not the plot or the characters.

“When I do things I shouldn't do, my mother says I need a new pair of glasses -- that I should be be looking differently at the choices I make.” - Amanda

Here is what I liked:

• Kingdom Keepers meets National Treasure as Finn and his buddies seek to find secret clues throughout the park left by Walt himself that will help them defeat the villains and find the fabled “Stonecutter’s Quill.” This was a cool search that I wanted to last longer.
• I liked the concept in the power of belief and how belief and faith have power (as well as their own magic).
• I enjoyed how Finn learned to merge his DHI self & physical self near the ending. I thought that was a cool element.
• Great fantasy finds/creates a magical realm/backdrop that you would want to be a part of. Going to Disney after dark would be amazing! The setting is great.

What I did not like:

• The first chapter made absolutely no sense to me. Authors commonly drop nibbles of what’s to come in the opening chapters to hook the reader. This chapter left way too much unexplained. I had to read about ¼ of the book and then go back to the first chapter for it to make sense.
• The female DHIs had no point in being there. They were never a part of the main action. They were either scared or out of the way. And there was no depth to the characters. One was pretty and one was smart. This was very disappointing. Is that all girls are defined as, Mr. Pearson?? It felt like a boy’s adventure. The girls have one small piece of danger as they ride “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh,” and I found myself annoyed with their dialogue and how they handled the situation.
Piggybacking the last point, Pearson does use a female as the main villain. However, she did not seem that overpowering as I expect from Maleficent, and she was easily tricked and defeated. Extremely disappointing as she’s one of my favorite Disney villains. There were never any epic confrontations with her. There were small moments here and there, but there was neither cunning nor surprises in their struggles. She was dim-witted and underused.
• Why are the pens Finn carries around “poisonous” to Maleficent? Seriously, she gets defeated by pens? Are we doing a pen is mightier than the sword thing? Then explain the power behind it!
In the last chapter, how did they know to drop ink onto the map? Was that ever implied?
• There were very few Disney characters in the book, and the one that it focused on (Maleficent) was not described properly. Pearson didn't capture her true personality or menace. For example, Pearson described the temperature dropping to freezing levels every time she stepped in a room with objects freezing at her touch. Huh? If anything, Maleficent is a fire (she turns into a dragon that breathes green fire) and therefore should represent the exact opposite earth element.
Why are there no good characters wandering around the park? Finn saw them on some of his first trips – Pooh & Piglet, Chip & Dale, Goofy. Adding some good guy characters into the mix to help these kids would have really elevated the action & storyline! Prince Phillip couldn’t have shown up once to help defeat Maleficent? Mickey could not have helped out a little??? Come on. Give Maleficent some more worthy adversaries to content with besides 13 year olds. I think this would have helped her credibility greatly.
• Some of the dialogue was choppy. It was not clear how characters came to the conclusions they did. So their paths to solutions didn’t always make sense (like the ink drop thing).
Who is Amanda? Is she a witch? One of the good fairies? Why can’t she tell Finn anything about Maleficent? She just kind of disappears at the end.
• There were too many “outside of Disney” moments. Because the teen characters were stereotypical and rather uninteresting, these moments seemed to drag the book down. The story needed more adventure inside the park and the characters developing and getting to know each other (learning to work as a team) in those moments. Too much time was spent finding with Finn finding the other DHIs.
There were Biblical references, which seemed to be significant at the time, but they went nowhere.
• I think some of the “outside of Disney” moments would have been easier to understand if this book was set in the summertime. Somehow these kids balance school, skip lunch hour and travel on a bus to a completely different school to find other DHIs, & balance home lives while trying to solve this mystery at the same time? It’s improbable.

Let’s face it, every juvenile fiction book is going to be compared the Harry Potter or Percy Jackson. These books have a great cast of characters which complement each other, but they also use wits and skill to defeat great evil. Even in the first chapter of the Harry Potter series, you get a clear sense for the characters of Dumbledore, McGonagall, and Hagrid. This book was not on that scale, and its characters are very weak. Let’s give the readers, young males and females, some characters they can relate to. Because let’s face it, how many of us live in Orlando and are celebrity holograms featured at Walt Disney World?

“There's a fine line between imagination and reality. An inventor dreams something up, and pretty soon, it's there on the table before him. A science-fiction writer envisions another world, and then some space probe finds it. If you believe in something strongly enough, I think you can make it happen.” - Wayne

The idea is inspiring: the characters of Disney World coming to life after dark, puzzles left by Walt Disney for a select group of teenagers to solve, I want to be a part of that! But the writing needs more clarity, vulnerability, and depth. Subplots, character development, wit, humor – I hope book II picks it up a lot with these elements. Otherwise, I will not be continuing with this series, because if it wasn't about Walt Disney World, I don't think I’d have finished this book.

 

My novels:

Just released December 2016: "The Forgotten" volume 2 "Heir of the Heretic"

Reviewed and awarded the

2016 Indie Editor's Choice

by the Historical Novel Society.

Long listed for the Historical Novel Society 2017 Indie Award.

Reviewer for:

Historical Novel Society Volunteer

NetGalley Professional Reader

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Goodreads profile at: https://www.goodreads.com/JElse

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