The Fire Burns Out
- Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Author: James Patterson and Jill Dembowski
Title: Witch & Wizard: The Fire
Publisher: Little, Brown, and Co.
By The Fire, the third installment of James Patterson's bestselling Witch & Wizard series, this is one star vehicle that's running on empty. A dystopian paranormal Young Adult novel which seems to be interested in appealing to as wide an audience as possible, The Fire follows the exploits of brother/sister combo Whit and Wisty Allgood in a futuristic America where a totalitarian government holds sway.
Following the death of their parents at the end of book two, the siblings spend much of this book dealing with their loss and plotting their revenge against the government responsible for these crimes. They also deal with the intermittent outages of their magical powers, and the loss of several friends/love interests, also missing after the events of previous books.
Character development isn't a priority here, and neither are the laws of physics, or basic guidelines for plot development. Priority number one is creating fast-paced action which doesn't give the reader time to stop and ask questions about why the action is being done. The Fire is a catastrophe of over-voiced characters, tired dystopian tropes, and worst of all, sloppy storytelling.
For the novel's first third, the plot consists mostly of Whit and Wisty running for their lives from roving squads of government thugs. There's no inciting incident, nothing to launch the characters into a plot arc. The only motivation for events happening seems to be the way they'll get the reader to turn pages. When Whit and Wisty finally get their mission - conveniently handed to them by a wise-but-slightly-cooky fairy-godmother type - they're off to the races toward the Big Climactic Showdown with the Lord Voldemort type. He - like the Baddie in the Harry Potter series - goes by an odd moniker ("The One Who is the One") and is bald and creepy looking, with mind control powers.
In every way, The Fire feels like a mashup of other stories. While it might be going too far to call this an attempt to cash in on a hot trend - after The Hunger Games, it was clear dystopian YA lit wasn't going anywhere soon - but The Fire is completely unimaginative. It's video game-style logic, making the villains so completely Evil it's impossible to attempt to understand where they're coming from.
There's nothing here to digest, which frankly, is insulting to a generation of readers who deserve better. What the series had going for it - the prospect of introducing a dystopian society where all forms of creativity are banished, leaving children to fend for themselves lest they fall into the clutches of the uber-powerful New Order - is now reduced to a standard-issue power struggle. Instead of getting young readers to think about the implications of a government stripping beauty and personal artistic expression, not to mention raising timely issues about civil rights, The Fire becomes a seek-and-destroy mission.
There's a middle ground to be found between highbrow literature and pulp, but The Fire is action without purpose. It's easy to imagine young readers racing through its pages hungrily, but it's hard to see anything on those pages lingering beyond a few minutes. Shame on Patterson and Co. for reducing such rich thematic possibilities to such disposable entertainment.
*This article first published 12/20/2011
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