Book Review: The Paladin Prophecy / Author: Mark Frost / Publisher: Doubleday Childrens / Release Date: Out Now
Mark Frost will forever be renowned as co-creator of Twin Peaks, but he was also scriptwriter on those forgettable Fantastic Four movies, and it's in the same blithely commercial vein that he has penned The Paladin Prophecy, the first book in a YA action trilogy with sci-fi and fantasy trimmings. Think of an all-American Harry Potter minus the wand, mixed with a healthy dollop of the X-Men, and you'll be halfway there.
The hero is 15-year-old Will West. Warned by his parents never to draw attention to himself, he absentmindedly aces a test and receives an offer of a full scholarship to an exclusive and venerable prep school snappily entitled The Centre for Integrated Learning. Unfortunately, his academic achievement has also caught the eye of some mysterious heavies in black suits, who body snatch his mother and set ferocious critters on him.
Barely escaping with his life thanks to Dave, a hot-rod-driving Kiwi who is his unlikely guardian angel, Will heads for the school, where he quickly finds himself embroiled in a mystery that could result in the destruction of mankind, not to mention a flurry of detentions.
You can't help but notice a number of Hogwarts echoes (an elaborate school crest, tasty dinners and a charismatic headmaster with a fondness for putting his pupils in harm's way to name but a few). But the Centre also has a weirdly fascistic subtext that's all its own. Supposedly a training ground for America's future leaders, the school confiscates the kids' mobile phones and laptops and stops them from accessing the Internet, whilst giving them hawkish seminars on 'Power and Realpolitik'. Hmm, no wonder so many presidential candidates have such a glazed look in their eyes...
Quel surprise that this place boasts more than its fair share of cloddish bullies and bad voodoo. Luckily, Will is no pushover, possessing as he does an array of special abilities – super-speed, super-cleverness, Obi-Wan Kenobi mind control powers, and a spot of telekinesis. He also enlists the help of some similarly gifted friends – Ajay (tech guy with a photographic memory) and Nick (karate skills and Ron Weasley-ish wisecracks). Plus there are two smart-talking girls, Brooke and Elise, but they very sensibly never seem to be around when the action happens.
Turning pages bursting with sci-fi gadgets, nasty creepy-crawlies and manic set-pieces, you can just picture the summer blockbuster this book longs to be. Maybe for that reason, it's a somewhat flavourless, over-packaged experience. Still, it slips down easily enough, due to some lively verbal sparring among the five main characters, and there's nothing like reading about life in a prestigious boarding school to make you grateful for going to a comprehensive.