Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Kingdom Keepers by Ridley Scott - review

Kingdom Keepers by Ridley Scott.
There are a few things my husband and I believe we will never do. We will never live outside of the city limits. We will never go on a cruise. We will never go to a Disney park.

I don't feel like I'm missing anything, really, by hewing to these few resolutions. They're not iron-clad, anyway - I have an idea that in twenty years, that cruise is going to look a lot more attractive. And in lieu of that third item, I sometimes read about Disney World. I love hearing about the tunnels, and the staff in-jokes. Cory Doctorow is pretty much my Disney lens. That guy is obsessed. His Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is a book I recommend to young adult and adult readers all the time.

Kingdom Keepers provides another neato, after-the-park-is-closed view of Disney World, and that is FUN. Here's the premise: Finn, our main character, along with his 4 middle-school colleagues, is tasked with solving a riddle and obtaining a magic talisman in order to thwart the evil forces threatening to take over the Magic Kingdom and beyond.

There is an inscrutable old man to serve as guide. There is an inscrutable and heart-stoppingly beautiful young woman (two, actually) to cause Finn to question motives and loyalties. There are thrilling chases through darkened rides. BUT. Kingdom Keepers suffers from a paradigm conflict. On the one hand, there are those meddling kids, using logic and detective work to solve the mysteries, figure out who the bad guys are, and plan their moves... but on the other hand, there's one heck of a lot of magic going on: Finn, who is part hologram, can from time to time walk through walls and stuff; and the villain (Maleficent, the evil witch from I think Sleeping Beauty) can throw fireballs, fly, and crash network servers.

In general, when you pit the human detective against the supernatural villain, it becomes really difficult to make the detective's methods seem worthwhile. Unless you set up very clear (and tedious) rules, magic is enough of a deus ex machina that it can knock your detective's deductions into a cocked hat. It's why Batman rarely comes up against bad guys with supernatural powers – he battles human criminals who make weird wardrobe decisions, not elemental forces gone berserk. Like fights like.

I could come up with other examples here – John Constantine comes to mind – but I just read WIRED magazine today and I keep thinking of the geek who got an entire convention full of gaming nerds to put on an impromptu re-enactment of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. And I don't want to be that guy.

Further, Kingdom Keepers suffers from open-end-itis. When you've finished the book, a number of questions are left hanging - Who was she? How come that worked? That kind of sequel-bait to me is just cheating.

In conclusion. Kingdom Keepers. Let me put it this way: it's just exactly like Scooby-Doo. Five kids, an empty amusement park, costumed villains trying to take over – except there's no use ripping the mask off that pirate – he's an Audio-Animatronic.

Bonus for you: animated LEGO Monty Python.

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