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 begin 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

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

There are times when the tumultuous emotion of a novel hinders an honest opinion. There are even times when the unexpected twists of an author’s imagining leave the reader with a quiet sense of baffled awe. Combined, these factors may result in a truly interesting review. Being only the second novel by Hemingway I have had the chance to read, A Farewell to Arms has left a powerful, albeit mournful impression.

The story of a troubled ambulance driver during World War I, coupled with a thoroughly depressing conclusion, is classic Hemingway. Various themes including the morbid nature of war, the relationship between love and hurt, and the patterns of human nature can be found in this novel and even recurring in much of Hemingway’s literature. The unemotional male protagonist, Henry, is the the product of these themes, a victim of life’s suffering and its many complexities.

There are aspects of A Farewell to Arms that require a slow mental digestion to appreciate the soul of the novel. Overall, I found the direct and terse prose of the writing a very accommodating feature to Hemingway’s themes. Henry’s mental dialogue quickly gives insight into the persona of the character. He is constantly besotted with various internal conflicts, all of which could lead to a certain self-understanding, but fail to do so as the book draws to a closure. The reader is left unpleasantly perplexed, in an unsatisfying way. This was obviously Hemingway’s intention as an artist; he was a crafting a portion of his spirit into words. The ending of the novel could be likened to the author’s state of mind itself.

One of the most poignant themes or messages of A Farewell to Arms is the terrible price of war. Throughout the plot, readers will notice that Henry is progressively distancing himself from the harsh realities of blood and warfare. With his highly direct method of writing, Hemingway uses powerful imagery in a casual way to provoke understanding within his readers. The pain, brutality, and at times utter chaos of Henry’s situation is seen as a character building (or possibly degrading) force in his life.

A Farewell to Arms was by no means written by someone who fully condemned war, but rather embraced the inevitability of it. Throughout the novel, Hemingway expresses his sentiment that war is merely the product of an already dark and tyrannous world. He accurately portrays the fickle nature of humanity; at times we can be cruel, and at times we can be murderers. However, we are also capable of compassion, integrity, and even nobility, despite society’s frequent attempts to forget or dispel true love. Yes, in a nutshell, A Farewell to Arms can be said to condemn war. However, I believe this sentiment is deeper and much more faceted in the mind of Hemingway.

A second theme prevalent in the novel, and also one of Henry’s chief struggles, is the often correlating relationship between love and hurt. In the beginning of A Farewell to Arms, Henry and Catherine (his newfound lover) find comfort in each other. They find solace from their own mournings and inner demons. This relationship evolves dramatically throughout the course of the book, and soon becomes a driving force in either’s life. Henry becomes torn between this unprecedented love for a woman, and his drive to get back to the front as soon as possible.

Henry understand the importance of his love for Catherine and how meaningful this type of bond can be in times of war. He realizes the emptiness of concepts such as honor and duty in the face of true love. This realization results in a terrific internal struggle. Henry repeatedly must come to terms with the “numb” mentality he adopted during war in order to open his heart for the woman he loves. Henry struggles with openness and sincerity but always manages to make a connection with Catherine.

I believe Hemingway was expressing one of the great morals of life: love in the face of fear, destruction, and tyranny can compel the inner compassion of a person to manifest. There is no force as powerful as love, save possibly fear. Henry is besotted by both, an onslaught of emotional turmoil that rips apart his conviction and decimates his previously held superficial values. The genius of Hemingway is his tendency to be completely realistic. He has the remarkable ability to capture the true essence of human nature.

All in all, A Farewell to Arms is a powerful symbol of the relationship between love and war in a man’s heart. It is an accurate description of the havoc a relationship can wreak on a man’s mentality. This novel is an incredible sentiment to what it means to be human, and the subtle intricacies of the human psyche are portrayed with striking accuracy. Hemingway captured the mutual destruction of both love and war. I could recommend this timeless classic to any reader, just for its invigorating if depressing breath of reality. However, some may dislike the harsh honesty in the authors word’s and cold precision in which he utterly nails human nature. I for one, appreciate this sincerity, this side of the story that only a few of the great classics sometimes expound upon. A Farewell to Arms is truly one of the most powerful pieces of literature when it comes to the effects of war on humanity. Readers should look for the connections and cause & effect relationships in this destructive, yet powerfully insightful novel.