The Merchant of Death (Pendragon #1) by D.J. MacHale

Merchant of Death

The Merchant of Death by D.J. MacHale

Publisher: Aladdin
Release: 2002
Reading Platform: Apple Books

Synopsis: BOBBY PENDRAGON is a seemingly normal fourteen-year-old boy. He has a family, a home, and even Marley, his beloved dog. But there is something very special about Bobby.

He is going to save the world.

And not just Earth as we know it. Bobby is slowly starting to realize that life in the cosmos isn’t quite what he thought it was. And before he can object, he is swept off to an alternative dimension known as Denduron, a territory inhabited by strange beings, ruled by a magical tyrant, and plagued by dangerous revolution.

If Bobby wants to see his family again, he’s going to have to accept his role as savior, and accept it wholeheartedly. Because, as he is about to discover, Denduron is only the beginning….

Review:  I find it only fitting that my return to book reviewing begins with the series that started it all. About ten years ago, in the midst of my early teendom, I stumbled upon this little gem of a novel by D.J. MacHale. The Merchant of Death became the catalyst for my interest in YA fiction and kindled a passion for sharing my thoughts on the many novels I voraciously read. You could even say that the Pendragon series as a whole marked the embarkation of my journey through website building, blogging, and written commentary.

The inspiration was so thorough that I began a fan club for the series, appropriately called Dark Matter. (For those familiar with Pendragon lore, you will know what I’m talking about!) The site evolved into an all-encompassing book club and eventually became my stepping-stone into the wider world of book reviewing and spiritual pondering. I don’t know why I never got around to a proper review for the books in this legendary series. They were certainly formative to the imagination and creativity of thirteen-year-old Ty. Perhaps, knowing how special they were to me, I was afraid of failing to do them justice. Well, a different state of mind and a decade later, I’ve decided to remedy that. And so, without further ado…. Hobey-ho, let’s go!

Like many of my favorites in the genre of YA fiction, The Merchant of Death is approachable to a wide array of ages. Contrary to what some might think, I value brevity and inclusivity of speech over obtuse language. The ability to reach a larger audience is sometimes more valuable than catering to the literary minded. In this case, The Merchant of Death succeeds by not alienating those of a younger age group who would benefit most from the themes of life it presents. But of course, one could argue this praise is better directed to the genre at large. My point is that some books are hastily judged by their intended audience instead of the potential universality of their content.

The greatest aspect of this approachability I keep waxing on about is the relatability of the protagonist, Bobby Pendragon. As a perfectly ordinary teen who is thrust into extraordinary circumstances, we are coaxed into reflecting upon our own life and the seemingly uncontrollable events of our own destiny. Many of the trials and tribulations Bobby faces mirror our own struggles, albeit embellished by fantasy. We see him endure the loss of his old life, a shattering of preconceived beliefs about reality, and his trust in important life figures put to the test. But most importantly, we see him make mistakes and endure the consequences of his actions.

By resisting his destiny and the call to do what is right, Bobby inadvertently causes the death of someone who was trying to protect him. The ripple effect of this mistake shapes the entirety of his proceeding journey. Whereas before he had a protector and a guide, now he and his comrades are more alone than ever. But as you will see later on, in a matter of fate, this occurrence was necessary for Bobby to confront his own selfish desires and rise to the occasion of fulfilling his greater destiny.

The character development of the protagonist witnessed in the first novel of this series alone is enough to continue reading. There is a bit of a redemption arc in here as we learn that Bobby forgives himself for being afraid of his destiny. His mistakes were a direct effect of fearing his newfound responsibility to the welfare of an entire people and civilization. By overcoming his fear and riding the waves of fate, he was able to save the lives of hundreds of people and become a better person in the process. As we see at the end of this particular journey, he marks this realization with a telling statement:

I feel as if I learned a few things. I learned that it’s sometimes okay to think like a weenie, so long as you don’t act like one—at least not all the time. I learned that it’s okay to be wrong, so long as you can admit it and are willing to listen to those who may know better.

As already hinted at, a major allusion of The Merchant of Death is the great tapestry of fate that is woven out of an unpredictable pattern of causes and effects. The theme of providence or a higher order guiding one’s destiny is prevalent at every turn. Where Bobby’s mistakes seem to be terrible setbacks, they are in fact serving a greater and unseen purpose. It encourages one to have faith that everything will turn out right in the end, even if it seems impossible at the current time. As the credo of the mysterious Travelers in the series goes, “This is the way it was meant to be.”

In a nutshell: D.J. MacHale embarked upon an epic and wholesome journey with The Merchant of Death. There is so much more I wish to say about this series, but I must save some musings for my reviews on the proceeding novels. I tried to keep plot specifics as vague as possible so you can find out more for yourself! As a very formative read in my early years, I can’t give this fantastic story enough praise. Filled with themes of friendship, destiny, and redemption, there is enough food for thought to satisfy the appetite of any reader. If you enjoyed this review, check out some of my other ones here.

MacHale, D.J. (2002) The Merchant of Death. United States: Aladdin

Rivers of Fire (Atherton #2) by Patrick Carman

Rivers of Fire by Patrick Carman

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Release: 2008
Image Source: BookCloseOuts
Other Titles in Series: The House of Power, The Dark Planet

Characters- 17/20
Plot- 19/20
Writing- 19/20
Originality- 19/20
Recommendation- 20/20
Overall- 94/100 or A

Synopsis: Atherton was once a magnificent three-tiered world, but few of its inhabitants know the truth of its dark origin: it is a giant man-made satellite, created as a refuge from a dying Earth. Now this strange place is torn apart—its there lands, formally separated by treacherous cliffs, have collapsed and collided. But a gifted climber and adventurous orphan boy, Edgar, is determined to discover the secret of Atherton’s survival, and he embarks on a life-or-death quest to find its mad maker.

Navigating Atherton’s chaos is nothing less than harrowing. At the center, a former paradise is sinking and flooding. At the perimeter, a monstrous force is on the attack. Trapped between are two peoples, once at war, who now must combat the new foe together. And underground, the world is only more sinister. Here, Edgar’s two friends, Samuel and Isabel, venture through dangerous realms, confronting deadly cave dwellers, rivers of fire, and waters of life.

Review: Rivers of Fire is the second installment of the Atherton Trilogy, and a truly gripping continuation of the events witnessed in the first book. Patrick Carman is an excellent storyteller, and his prowess has never fallen short—least of all now. If you are new to the series, or new to any of Carman’s work for that matter, prepare yourself for an epic ride of discovery and adventure.

The world of Atherton is on a course of revolutionary happenings: everything is about to change. Readers of Atherton will almost certainly welcome Rivers of Fire as a satisfactory sequel. Most of the leading aspects of the story-line have waxed in quality, such as the readability and originality. The lack of strong character development was a slight downfall (similar to the first installment), yet better than I expected. Each personality was certainly vibrant and believable, with a nice well-rounded feel. The highlight of Rivers of Fire, as with any of Carman’s books, was undoubtedly the spirit of adventure prevalent within a handful youthful protagonists. I am always enamored, riveted, and enthused by Carman’s knack for revitalizing the child within. Tween fantasy geared toward 5-6th graders is definitely something special.

In this thrilling fantasy, Patrick Carman also weaves a voice of wisdom into the plot with the character Wallace. This kind and gentle sheepherder guides to people of Atherton in their struggles, particularly in uniting the two societies of Tabletop and the Highlands. The sad fact that—Spoiler alert!—Wallace dies makes him an immediate icon for the entire series. He is one of the characters I look up to most, after Edgar of course. On pg. 202 you can discover one of my favorite ‘Wallace’ quotes:

You must know your enemies to overcome them. That is the path of peace for every person, and it comes only by doing, not by the study of those who are already doing.

To clarify the meaning a bit; Wallace was referring to one’s inner enemies. Knowing and coming to terms with your own faults is the only way to find true peace of mind. Am I sensing a few Buddhist vibes here? Wallace also emphasizes coming to terms with your enemies in your own way. Studying the endeavors of those who have already embarked on this journey is fine, but true peace only comes by finding out the secrets on your own. You must follow your own heart, not the hearts of others. Be a trailblazer and find what works best for YOU.

Rivers of Fire is all about two unlikely groups finding common ground and uniting together to face the greater threat. As Atherton finally settles, a new order arises. The people stand united as one civilization, and all past discrepancies are as good as forgotten. Indeed, one could say the Atherton series has reached its conclusion. But you couldn’t be further from the truth. The Dark Planet still retains its mysteries, and one book in the series remains. What happens next?

Overall Grade: A
Atherton: Rivers of Fire is a truly remarkable sequel to one of my favorite fantasies. Patrick Carman has  instilled his name in the hearts of kids and young adults the world over and proven himself a master of children’s fantasy. This novel is beautiful continuation of the Atherton series, chalk full of lurking mysteries, thrilling escapades, and simply-put wisdom. I wholeheartedly recommend it.
Carman, Patrick. (2008) Rivers of Fire. United States: Little, Brown and Company 

The House of Power (Atherton #1) by Patrick Carman

The House of Power by Patrick Carman

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Release: 2007
Image Source: Junior Library Guild
Other Titles in Series: The Rivers of Fire, The Dark Planet

Characters- 17/20
Plot- 19/20
Writing- 18/20
Originality- 20/20
Recommendation- 20/20
Overall- 94/100 or A-

Synopsis: Dr. Harding is the futuristic mad scientist responsible for creating Atherton: a three tiered satellite world orbiting the fallen Earth. But those who live on Atherton don’t know Earth exists or their role in trying to save it. Edgar, a gifted climber, is one of the first to discover the first of many startling revelations to come: the three tiered world of Atherton is collapsing. A dangerous world of strange creatures and hidden powers with a history locked inside the mad scientist, Atherton is much more than it appears at first glance. 

Review: The House of Power is the first installment of the Atherton trilogy; written and imagineered by Patrick Carman. This first installment details the many dangerous and revolutionary events on the mysterious land of Atherton. The plot itself is fairly simple and decent, being a fantasy written with an adolescent audience in mind. A likable protagonist named of Edgar is presented whose various endeavors and exploits the story revolves around.

The fabric of The House of Power is rich and textured, and coupled with a breeze-to-read writing style, it should greatly appeal to younger readers. Upon starting the first chapter, I was pleasantly enthralled by a gentle mystery. The ingenious Dr. Harding is portrayed as a mad scientist, which subsequently offered a glimpse into his experiment gone wrong—Atherton itself. Indeed, the world Carman imagined is both beautiful and tragic, a success and a disaster.

The satellite world of Atherton was constructed in the 22nd century, following the environmental collapse of Earth. Overbearing pollution and technological dominance ravaged Earth for many years, until it became known as simply The Dark Planet. The original plan of Atherton was to be a refuge from The Dark Planet, but its prime creator, Dr. Harding, held secret intentions. He held specific notions how a new utopia should be created. The Doctor even developed strict guidelines on how the biological and socio-political environments should be structured. In turn, Atherton was constructed based on a three-tier layout. The top level, called the Highlands, was the location of the only water source in Atherton, and the ruling class of citizens. Next is Tabletop, the middle tier and home of the lower class. In Tabletop, the residents farm sheep, rabbits, and a certain hybrid of figs. Most of these resources sent to the Highlands. The third and final level is called the Flatlands. This dark and barren place is filled with mystery and intrigue. No one from the top two levels has ever been to the Flatlands, and any past records are nonexistent.

As you can see, a dynamic power-play is evident between the two classes of residents on Atherton. The Highlanders control the only water source, and in turn take advantage of the power to invoke harsh demands on the lower class. Tabletop struggles to cater to their lords and must contend with living in near-poverty and intensive labor. Later in the novel, readers should recognize the stirrings of discontent and rebellion as the two classes fall closer together than anyone could imagine. The mystery of Atherton is finally revealed, and mind-blowing is truly the only way to describe the surprises sure to come.

The House of Power is a quick, entertaining read sure to win the hearts of any audience. Adolescents and tweens will especially enjoy the high level of excitement and action within its pages. I tip my hat to Patrick Carman, who is a master at building enjoyable fantasies.

Overall Grade: A- 
Atherton: The House of Power is a most interesting exploration of an alternative world—and the social relationships between its inhabitants. Despite Edgar’s admirability, the characters of the book were lacking on a few fronts. Fortunately, the unique environment and well-rounded plot are plenty enough satisfy most readers.
Carman, Patrick. (2007) The House of Power. United States: Little, Brown and Company

The Diamond of Darkhold (Ember #4) by Jeanne DuPrau

Characters: 18/20
Plot: 19/20
Originality: 19/20
Writing: 19/19
Reccomendation: 20/20
Overall: 95/100 or A
Source: Borrowed from Grandma :)

Summary: It’s been several months since Lina and Doon escaped the dying city of Ember and, along with the rest of their people, joined the town of Sparks. Lina knows they are lucky to be there, but life aboveground is hard. Instead of opening a can for dinner, they must plant and harvest their food. And while there was no sun or moon in Ember’s sky, neither was there rain, sleet, or wind. Now, in the middle of their first winter, Lina finds herself feeling homesickfor her old city

It’s during this dark time that Doon finds an unusual book. Torn up and missing most of its pages, it alludes to a mysterious device, a piece of technology from before the Disaster. Doon becomes convinced that the Builders of Ember meant for them to find the device when they left the city, to help them in their new lives. Together, Lina and Doon must go back underground to retrieve what was lost and bring light to a dark world.

In the fourth Book of Ember, bestselling author Jeanne DePrau juxtaposes yet another action-packed adventure with powerful themes of hope, learning, and the search for truth.

Review: The Diamond of Darkhold is the fourth and last installment of the spectacular “Books of Ember” series. It was an absolute thrill to read and I enjoyed watching it come to a formidable end.

When Doon and Lina led the people of Ember out of their dying underground city and into the world above, everything was different and strange. A few months have passed since then, and the people of Ember are living in the small village of Sparks. Life in this new world is difficult, especially when facing the hardships of the Emberite’s first winter. Harsh weather and quickly depleting food and medical supplies make some Emberites think back to their easier life in Ember. Valuable supplies were left behind in Ember during the final rush to evacuate the city before the once-great generator finally gave out. If these supplies could be retrieved, it could make all the difference for life in Sparks.

In the story, Doon and Lina discover an ancient book written by the Builders of Ember. The unusual book is nearly destroyed, but it hints at an advanced device that the Builders might have left behind for the Emberites. This device was built to help make life for the citizens of Ember above ground easier. Together, Lina and Doon return to the abandoned city of Ember to find this device from the Builders. But Ember is a different city now, and is definitely not what they expect.

“The Diamond of Darkhold” is another great book from Jeanne DuPrau. The plot is immaculate, with plenty of great details and fresh new looks at areas of Ember that readers didn’t get to see before. With each new Book of Ember DuPrau shares just a little more information about the grand plot and intricate workings behind the history of Ember. I highly recommend “The Diamond of Darkhold” and the entire “Books of Ember” series to anyone who not just loves a fantastic adventure, but also a story with great moral inclinations.

DuPrau, Jeanne. (2008). The Diamond of Darkhold. New York: Yearling.

Read my reviews of the other Books of Ember:


The Prophet of Yonwood (Ember #3) by Jeanne DuPrau

Characters: 19/20
Plot: 20/20
Originality: 19/20
Writing: 18/20
Reccomendation: 20/20
Overall: 96/100 or A
Source: Borrowed from Grandma :)

Summary: War looms on the horizon as eleven-year-old Nickie and her aunt travel to the small town of Yonwood, North Carolina. There, one of the town’s respected citizens has had a terrible vision of fire and destruction. As the people of Yonwood scramble to make sense of the woman’s mysterious utterances, Nickie explores the oddities she finds around town, while keeping an eye out for ways to help the world. Is this vision her chance? Or is it already too late to avoid a devastating war?

In this prequel to the acclaimed The City of Ember and The People of Sparks, Jeanne DuPrau investigates how, in a world that seems out of control, hope and comfort can be found in the strangest of places.

Review: I have been a fan of the Books of Ember series ever since I opened Jeanne Duprau ‘s debut for the first time. But after reading the third installment, The Prophet of Yonwood, for the second, I truly understand the wisdom she was trying to impart through her books. To understand what I am trying to say, I guess you would have to read it for yourself. I wouldn’t want to give any spoilers away. 😉 The prequel to The City of Ember is a truly great read. Besides describing the adventures of a young girl named Nickie, The Prophet of Yonwood has several pretty great moral statements.

The setting of the story is present-day (maybe a few decades into the future) in Yonwood, North Carolina, a small town in the United States. The book begins with a respected citizen of Yonwood, Althea Tower, having an apocalyptic vision, in which she envisions a future filled with explosions, fire, and violence. Althea Tower is named a Prophet by the town members, and the residents of Yonwood are struck by terror at the face of such a bleak future (especially with their country on the brink of a war). Yonwood tries to better itself in the name of God so that they may be spared this prophesied future. A few months later, Nickie, the protagonist of the story, and her aunt, Crystal, arrive in Yonwood planning to sell Nickie’s great-grandfather’s house, named Greenhaven. The story tells of how Nickie attempts to accomplish 3 inner goals, and of how she and Yonwood react to each other.

Many of the themes in Jeanne DuPrau’s earlier books are also present in The Prophet of Yonwood, with a few new additions as well. The characters and plot are excellently built. All the characters are believable and quirky and the plot is easy to follow and is very interesting.

In addition to delivering a fantastic story, Jeanne DuPrau has also presented quite a few moral themes in The Prophet of Yonwood. Throughout the book, she offers themes such as utopias, choice of trusts and sacrifice, true love, and life in general. Although she addresses many deep and philosophical topics, she does not disrupt the easy flow of the book. Adults and children both can enjoy this great read. I certainly did. :)

DuPrau, Jeanne. (2006). The Prophet of Yonwood. New York: Yearling.

The People of Sparks (Ember #2) by Jeanne DuPrau

Characters: 18/20
Plot: 20/20
Originality: 19/20
Writing: 18/20
Recommendation: 20/20
Overall: 95/100 or A
Source: Borrowed from Grandma :)

Summary: When Lina and Doon lead their people up from the underground city of Ember, they discover a surface world of color and life. The people of a small village called Sparks agree to help the Emberites, but the villagers have never had to share their world before. Soon differences between the two groups escalate, and it’s up to Lina and Doon to find a way to avoid war!
In the riveting sequel to the highly acclaimed The City of Ember, Jeanne DuPrau explores the nature of conflict and the strength and courage necessary to overcome it.

Review: The second installment of The Books of Ember series is a spectacular sequel to the first! I was completely hyped-up as I read it for the first time, but the second was even better. DuPrau adventures further into the realm of morals, leaving a satisfied reader with another clear message: War can bring nothing good and as easy as it is to achieve, it is hard to escape. I am absolutely fond of this book, zealous even. The People of Sparks is not just an awesome adventure, but a thought-provoking and fascinating novel too. It was mindfully written and should appeal to adults as well as kids.

When the people of Ember surfaced from their dying city at last, they were introduced to an entirely different world. Instead of the familiar darkness and electric lights of their underground home, they were faced with an abundance of color, nearly painful heat, and light that came from the sky. The people of Ember were welcomed to this new and terrifying world by a small village called Sparks. The people of Sparks invite the Emberites into their homes and even feed them in return for hard work. Together, the two groups of people are forced to work together to survive in the world, nearly driving themselves to the brink of war in the process.

While reading this spectacular series, I noticed a connection between the names of the two cities in the first and second book, Ember and Sparks. I believe the author was quite clever in devising these names. In the series, the city of Ember is a dying city, hence the name Ember. The Village of Sparks is only a beginning, destined to grow and prosper, almost like the spark of a fire soon to come. See the connection? 😉

Anyway, The People of Sparks is a fabulous read for those who are familiar The City of Ember. I recommend it to anyone who likes a good adventure, coupled with a strong moral.

DuPrau, Jeanne. (2004). The People of Sparks. New York: Yearling.

The City of Ember (Ember #1) by Jeanne DuPrau

Characters: 18/20
Plot: 20/20
Originality: 19/20
Writing: 18/20
Recommendation: 20/20
Overall: 95/100 or A
Source: Borrowed from Mom :)

Summary: Lina Mayfleet desperately wants to be a messenger. Instead, she draws the dreaded job of Pipeworks laborer, which means she’ll be working in damp tunnels deep underground.

Doon Harrow draws messenger–and asks Lina to trade! Doon wants to be underground. That’s where the generator is, and Doon has ideas about how to fix it. For as long as anyone can remember, the great lights of Ember have kept the endless darkness at bay. But now the lights are beginning to flicker. . . .

Review: Jeanne DuPrau’s debut was absolutely exciting. She has concocted a great plot and a strong message for readers of this fantastic novel. Her writing was clear and refreshing, and her characters were wonderfully original. I enjoyed this book quite a bit and was left craving the next in the series. The cliffhanger ending was stunning.

The City of Ember was essentially built as a giant fallout shelter. Once, many years ago, the world underwent a dramatic disaster, presumably a war. The Builders who constructed Ember believed that the entire human populace would be wiped out during this catastrophe, and decided to construct a way to preserve some portion of humanity. So the City of Ember was constructed, a settlement buried deep underground in a giant cave, where hopefully it would survive the after-effects of a cataclysmic war.

Ember was supplied by the Builders with a massive hydro-electric generator that was capable of powering the entire city with lights, running water, and other conveniences. An abundance of canned food and other goods filled the impressive storerooms beneath the city, where it seemed it would never be depleted. The Emberites could live there almost forever. . . . Until their food begins to run out or the lights start to flicker.

Overall, the entire book was enthralling. From the very beginning, the novel had me captured. It is a very quick read, in part due to it’s size and also because you can’t put it down until you are finished. Besides an exciting and fast-paced adventure, The City of Ember also has a very clear and powerful moral: Greed can only ever harm yourself and others. This is a fantastic read for kids and adults alike.

DuPrau, Jeanne. (2003). The City of Ember. New York: Yearling.