Remember that Harry Potter series of books thing that sort of turned into the Inheritance (Eragon) series or the Lemony Snicket series or the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series or the Twilight series or the Hunger Game series? William Joyce has the latest in read-these-until-you’re-blue in the face technology: The Guardians series.
I first came across this because I’m a big fan of William Joyce’s artwork, which is sort of steam-punk fantasy meets Georges Seurat (there are regrettably few illustrations in this book). Turns out the guy is super prolific, but your 5-year-old kid already knew that. Joyce wrote a book about dinosaurs that is a must for every dentist’s waiting room.
The Guardians Book One: Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King (2011) is a page-turner, but only because the font is huge and is double spaced. The first book of this fantasy series has the difficult work of universe-building, a task which it doesn’t always handle well. Chapter 7, for example, is titled “is not really a chapter at all – just a piece of the greater puzzle.” Those puzzle pieces involve a Spectral Boy, the man in the moon, a wizard (who is super Gandalf-y), a nightmare king, a yeti army, a genie, not to mention all the villages and little magical trinkets and so on and so on. It’s a fantasy world, we get that, but do we have to get the entire history all up front?
Look. All I’m saying is that there’s no mention of the horcruxes in the Philosopher’s Stone.
Of course the best part of this book is that Nicholas St. North is not a jolly old fellow, but a crazy Cossack Bandit King who kills a bear with throwing knives and sabers. After 150 pages of setup, North battles a giant demon robot. I’ll sit through just about any sort of stupidity for 150 pages if the payoff is Santa Claus v. Mechagodzilla.
Before this book came out, Joyce had already won an Oscar for a short animated film, and the copyright page of Nicholas St. North lets us all know that Dreamworks Animation owns the rights to the character named “Pitch.” That should tell you where this series is headed: big screens and toy aisles nationwide. It’s also indicative of the most frustrating part of this book. It reads like an afterthought to a screenplay (ever read a book based on a movie?).
In the end, these books are regrettably and entirely skippable. But go see the movie (November 21st this year). It’ll be good.
I give it two celebrity voice-overs.