Author: Pittacus Lore, a.k.a. James Frey
Title: The Rise of Nine
Sometimes it's hard to disguise reality.
Consider The Rise of Nine, James Frey's latest sequel in his Lorien Legacies series about teenaged aliens on planet Earth.
Its well-packaged hardcover edition boasts a painstakingly designed dust jacket, plus an extraordinary "Lorien Legacies" imprint on the fore-edge. That fore-edge imprint carries over onto the book's pages, resembling a sort of computer code to further its alien aesthetic.
Of course, coolness is Frey's stock in trade, but his is at stake with this series. You'll recall he was famously outed on Oprah as a fraudulent autobiographer, and his Lorien Legacies series represents his hope for literary redemption.
Unfortunately, Frey can't seem to cobble together much of a plot for The Rise of Nine. Perhaps that's because he reputedly employs a stable of writers to help him craft these stories behind the pseudonym Pittacus Lore. His "fiction factory" manages to churn out a sprawling outline of drama, angst, tricks, dreams, and flashbacks, but if you're looking for themes, a plot, and other crucial components of good fiction, you'll have to settle for a thin good/evil narrative.
Despite some blue language, Frey's series aims for a teen market, so the emphasis is on action, with a bit of politically correct character development thrown in for good measure. Basically, in The Rise of Nine, nine aliens named by numbers are trying to regroup here on Earth after their adventures in this series' first two books. And if The Rise of Nine is your first introduction to Frey's series, frequent flashbacks sufficiently get you up to speed.
Our heroes face a plethora of daunting challenges as they maneuver throughout the world to join forces. Fight scenes are mostly gratuitous, and long on dramatics, ostensibly in consideration of the inevitable movie adaptations of these books (I am Number Four, based on the first book in the Lorien Legacies series, was released last year). There's a Ford sedan secretly outfitted to rival James Bond's Aston Martin, and a posh Chicago apartment where frozen pizza suffices for gourmet fare.
A decent amount of smile-inducing humor flits through the dialog, but it's in a sarcastic style matching generic Hollywood's estimation of what today's kids think is funny. Teens who don't read a lot may find it entertaining, but young adults who are serious about their reading might find it patronizing.
Which, frankly, is likely how any serious reader will begin to feel about halfway through The Rise of Nine. Perhaps the most egregious cop-outs Frey perpetrates against his readers involves the alien superpowers each of our heroes can summon at just the right spots. Facing death square in the face? Transport or transmogrify yourself. Sometimes Frey sabotages his own storyline as we await the next big trick.
Some woman morphs into your mortal enemy? Ho, hum - what new superpower will saver you this time?
Some nasty truck drivers are going to shoot you? Bend the trajectory of the bullet back to hit the shooter in his backside.
You can almost hear some goofy adolescents chortling at that one.
If this book had legitimacy as a story about the war between good and evil, it might be worth the time exploring a few parallels it shares with the Christian battle against sin and the devil. Alas, such a discussion would rapidly disintegrate as we considered what the amazing instant superpowers Frey gives our heroes have to do with prayer and faith.
Sometimes the Lord plucks us from danger and harm, while other times, He guides us through danger and harm for His glory and our good. Frey, on the other hand, wallows in a dubious celebration of the innate power good people can have over the things that are holding us down - the typical new-age philosophy that is so incredibly untrue to the real world in which we live.
Back when Winfrey challenged Frey on his willingness to package fiction with fact and call it reality, Frey basically told his readers that truth is what you make it.
In the case of The Rise of Nine, Frey has made a truly hollow book.
*This Review First Published 9/8/2012