It seems to me that every time I buy a book in the Power of Five series by Anthony Horowitz, it’s a matter of chance. Yes, it was pure luck that I came upon the series, and anyway, I haven’t read it in order. Most sane people read it from book 1 to book 5. Not me. First I found Nightrise (book 3), then I read Evil Star (book 2), then Necropolis (book 4), then I finally read Raven’s Gate (book 1). It just so happens that the same crazy luck rained upon me when I entered the bookstore, looked around, found nothing, and noticed Oblivion (book 5) as I was about to leave.
Let me tell you something about Anthony Horowitz, the writer of the Power of Five series. The guy is one of a kind. Seriously. Give him the most bland, pointless, clichéd concept and he will revamp it to the point where it is actually brilliant. The Power of Five, for instance, is about five kids with unique powers who are destined to defeat these ancient demons called the Old Ones. Pretty straightforward. In fact, it’s a darn stereotypical idea. We’ve seen it everywhere, from Captain Planet to Scooby Doo, plus a host of other stuff that I can’t think of yet. He’s done this ‘concept reconstruction’ with his other series called Alex Rider, which is about a teenage spy (Yup, I know, as original as originality can possibly get.)
And despite the boring-ness of the concept, Horowitz makes it look sinister. Very sinister.
Let me gather my thoughts for a moment. There are things I want to mention, from a writing point of view. Stuff that future literary geniuses ought to know, especially if your genre of choice is Young Adult Fiction.
Alright. Now let’s get down to business.
Oblivion, as mentioned earlier, is the fifth and final installment to the Power of Five series. The five chosen teenagers: Matt, their leader (who can do pretty much everything), Jamie and Scott, twins with mind-reading and mind controlling powers, Pedro, the healer and Scarlett, the girl who can control weather, are scattered across the globe. The Old Ones have become very powerful, and they now have complete control of, and are destroying, the planet. The Five can only defeat the Old Ones if they are together. They now have to find each other and reach Antarctica, where Chaos, the king of the Old Ones lies in wait. One of the Five has turned traitor.
Oblivion is pure Dystopia. You know, a story that’s based in a land controlled by the bad guys, the world is in ruins, yada yada yada. Like 1984 or Hunger Games.
Of course, Hunger Games is utter monkeypoop compared to Oblivion in the Dystopia department. Yes, monkeypoop. A word of my own invention because that’s the only word strong enough to express the difference in quality between them. Oblivion makes Hunger Games look like slightly burnt toast.
The Old Ones scare the crap out of me. Won’t deny it. I know it’s fiction and whatever, but the darkness of the imagination used is just something else. Slavery is in fashion, entire countries spoiled. Natural disasters and refugees everywhere. Poverty and starvation. Radiation, disease, murder, you name it. The police protect and serve the Old Ones, not the people. And that’s if there are any people left. Food and water are scarce. The environment is all but dead. Through all this, the Five must find each other and live to tell their tales.
The writing is stoic and emotionless. Even when it’s describing emotion, the voice of the narrator is distant and detached. Far from being a bad thing, I love this. I’ve always believed that writing style can do wonders to set the tone of a story, and it’s really while reading a Power of Five novel that this really comes through.
Characterization? Well, yes and no. Eh. I like certain characters very much, and I’m pretty bored with others. Holly, for instance, annoys me. So does Scarlett. Horowitz for some reason cannot work with female characters. They come off as bland. I’ve noticed this in Alex Rider too with Alex’s love interest Sabina. His male characters though are just downright attractive. Yes, I said it. Attractive.
I like the honesty and kindness of Pedro. While all the characters are tragic (and living in such a Dystopian universe, who wouldn’t be?), Pedro’s suffering is just heart-wrenching. He really reminds me of a stray puppy. Sweet and lovable and yet ignored and ill-treated by the world. Despite everything, he has not a shred of darkness in him.
Matt, the leader of the Five, is one I never liked much. It’s because he’s a hero. I’m very moody with heroes. You can always predict what a hero will do. The stories are all the same. But in Oblivion, he really shone through with a sort of self-defeat that heroic characters do not usually experience. I mean, sure, there is always that ‘sad part’ in every story where the protagonist is lost and feels hopeless but he always pulls through at the right moment. But with Matt, by the end of the novel, he has resigned to his fate, all hope lost. He has simply accepted his death.
Jamie. Jamie, if you ask me, has always been the child of the group. Always under the protection and care of his beloved older twin brother Scott. Now Jamie has been separated from his brother, and without warning, he grows up. I’ve always seen him as gentle and unsure. So with him assuming a role of leadership here was refreshing and awesome.
Scott and Lohan. I’ll take them together because they’re both anti-heroes and anti-heroes always hold a special place in my heart. (By the way, an anti-hero is a character who has both shades of good and bad in them. They are not purely good or purely bad, they’re just somewhere in between.) Ever had friend who you adored in the past, and now you don’t even recognize any more? That’s Scott in Oblivion. The poor guy! I feel torn between pity and anger at him. Lohan is an anti-hero because he’s a bad guy working for a good cause. He’s a career criminal and has no qualms about killing people who get in his way. FINALLY, a character who feels no remorse in YA fiction. (I mean, how boring is it when the good guy really should murder the bad guy but doesn’t because ‘it’s wrong’. Jesus, what about the crimes the bad guy committed, eh? LAME.)
Richard is an okay character. From being a nobody journalist at the start of the series, he develops into a far stronger character by the final book. I’ve never really had much of an opinion on him to be honest.
But enough of the formalities. I told you, I want to mention some stuff that writers absolutely have to know when writing Young Adult Fiction or Fantasy Fiction. So let’s get to that!
1. Keep it real.
While writing YA stuff, you have to remember that your readers are teenagers, not toddlers. Just because is YA doesn’t mean you have to treat your readers like their seven. In fact, the murkier, the better. Especially in dystopian fiction, don’t gloss things over. You lose the effect you want. Horowitz’s descriptions are real and scary, with lots of blood and gun-fighting and themes that aren’t exactly about bunny rabbits in rainbow gardens. It’s dark, really dark. And we like it dark. It keeps the readers hooked, it evokes powerful emotions within them. Dystopia is the underside of adventure.
2. While writing fantasy that’s based in the real world, it helps if you make connections to actual earthly happenings.
Ten points to anyone who recognizes these:
Yup, those are the Nazca lines. They’re found in the Nazca desert in Peru, and they’ve been around for ages. Nobody knows who made them and how. They don’t even know why. Seriously, why would you go out in the sweltering heat of a desert and draw eighty kilometer long animals in the sand? It’s one of those historic mysteries.
Our great man Horowitz has connected his story with these lines. In The Power of Five, the Old Ones have a set of giant monsters: a spider, a monkey, a hummingbird, a condor…Seems familiar? Doesn’t this suddenly add a new kind of mystique to an already incredible event in history? It works even better when you try it with boring every day objects. Imagine the world being ruled by an evil math textbook–(let’s face it, all math textbooks are evil)–suddenly, doing your homework becomes a bit more adventurous because you’re DEFEATING THE EVIL OVERLORD OF NUMBERS!
3. If you’re gonna be writing a series, don’t give it a gap of several years before you publish your next installment.
I read Necropolis (book 4) when I was 13. That’s 2008. Five years have passed since. I’d even forgotten the series until I found Oblivion by chance. Oblivion was published late last year. When I started reading it, I realised I couldn’t remember whole chunks of the previous books. Don’t do this. I almost left it after the first chapter because I couldn’t figure out what was going on, and because it was being narrated by Holly, who’s really quite boring. Once I got into the flow of things I finished it pretty easily, but it’s not a risk you should take as a writer.
4. Beware of your typos!
Oh gosh, imagine when I discover that one of my favourite YA author has typos in his novel. I noticed two! The first one was a quotation mark that was missing so it read like: “I love cookies, Josh said, “But I love cake more.” The second one was an ‘S’ missing in a plural form of a noun. This is admittedly the job of an editor, but it doesn’t hurt if you keep a close eye on your prose as you go either.
Though I loved Oblivion, I can’t forgive it for the typos.
Anyway, that’s it for now. Don’t expect a post from me until the end of March. After that, expect many posts from me. Year 12 exams have been keeping me from reading and blogging for too long. But soon I’ll be done. See you in April!