Sunday, September 14, 2014

Book Review: Jack Staples and the Ring of Time

After finishing Mark Batterson's excellent book on prayer, The Circle Maker, and recommending it to everyone who would listen, I was shocked to discover a children's book co-written by Batterson and Joel N. Clark, called Jack Staples and the Ring of Time, available for free download, in exchange for a review, through the Story Cartel website. (It is available there for about another week.) I eagerly snatched it up. I decided to try it out on Sean to also register his response to the book.

From the very outset of the story, the reader is sucked into intense action. Jack Staples is at a circus performance where a young girl walks a tightrope above pouncing lions. When the tightrope breaks and the girl falls to the ground, pandemonium breaks out and eventually the tent catches fire. Jack is miraculously saved by one of the lions (who gave his life, in the fire, to save Jack) and is revealed to be "The Child of Prophecy."

I couldn't read the sentences fast enough. The action moved from event to event with such rapidity that I could barely keep up with the frantic pace of the story. The intensity swept us along like we were on a raging river going over rapids. Sean seemed equally riveted. We read the first 100 pages in a large chunk on Saturday afternoon, then another fifty pages later in the afternoon. Sadly, after that, whenever Sean asked to be read to, he requested the Harry Potter series instead of the Jack Staples book. I can only guess as to why this book didn't hold him.

My thought is that the writing is paced to be just too frantic. I found myself thinking the book needed some comic relief to offset the intensity of action. The characters are well-drawn (including a feisty young girl named Alexia who becomes somewhat of a "wild thing" when her parents die and the curiously-interesting Mrs. Dumphreys, who spouts wisdom and guidance in colorful phrases like "Perseverance and Stupidity may attend the same ball, but Wisdom only dances with one.") and the plot coherent, but the pacing is just too extreme. Moreover, at times it is difficult to keep track of what is going on and where it is all leading. The story shifts back and forth among the characters with the initials of each character presented to clarify which one is the focus at the moment. The tale is fanciful and feels like an elaborate analogy (something intended to be along the lines of Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia). It is clearly a battle of good versus evil and the characters fall in line with the Christian understanding of this battle (with a Satan character, The Assassin, and a God figure, The Author). Alexia and Jack are both proclaimed to be children of prophecy, with an unusual twist that foretells one destroying The Awakened and one saving The Awakened, though we do not discover who is responsible for either the destruction or salvation. I liked the image of The Awakened as individuals who have had scales removed from their eyes to see more clearly a multi-dimensional world for which time limits the perspective.

As the pace continued, never letting up, I felt sure we were headed for the final showdown and the resolution of the many questions stirred in the tale. However, I sadly discovered this is just the first installment. To continue the story, I must wait for the next installment, entitled Jack Staples and the City of Shadows. Given the fact that the book was published by David C. Cook, and that Batterson already has an established name in the Christian community, I was surprised to see this book in the Story Cartel offerings. I suppose this is partly because the book is his first venture into fiction ... children's fiction, at that. While I do hope he secures many readers for this interesting tale, I think the rest of the books would benefit from some breathing room for the reader and a bit less frantic pacing. Yes, it was a page-turning book (which is a good thing), but just a bit over-the-top and that is why I'm guessing my seven-year-old lost interest in the tale.

I haven't given up. Perhaps I will try again when the second book comes out (since Sean loves to get engrossed in series fiction). The stories will definitely interest young boys, and girls will likely identify with the strong character of Alexia. There is certainly good fodder for discussion after reading such a tale. Overall, I was quite impressed.

Here is the first riveting chapter, read aloud by Joel N. Clark:

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