The Kingdom Lights felt very much like a book in search of a more serious pedigree in a sea of fairly simplistic middle grade reads. But while not terribly written, characters were flat, the tone passive, and modern vernacular very anachronistic even for a book set in current times but with an alternate universe type of twist (read: magic). A lamentable amount of parallels to Harry Potter was also problematic.
Story: Celes Vale lives on the ground with others who do not possess magic. When it is discovered that he has magic suddenly on his 12th birthday, he is sent up to Gardarel, a floating City of magic. There, while enrolled in a magicians school, he will make friends and enemies and uncover a plot by a great evil magician.
First and foremost, although this is a set in modern day but alternate universe (references are made to the our current world as ended), it read a lot like a fantasy. I am not sure the current world elements were even needed since nothing of current society remains in the book’s world other than vernacular, oddly enough. It is all sketchily drawn, though, and I didn’t get a feel of the setting at all. The twelve year olds talk like modern day teens, e.g., ” You alright?” “That’s cool!” but then summon creatures with magic and travel to floating cities. The milieu just didn’t feel well thought through beyond a superficial outline.
The characters were very unemotional – reacting (if at all) on the most basic of emotions. There was no complexity whatsoever – watch ordinary 12 year olds play at a school and you soon understand that there is always a complex undercurrent going on even at that age. But not so here. The side characters were forgettable and the main character even duller. I read another review where the reviewer said that a statue was the most interesting character. I really had to agree, as sad as it sounds.
I found the worldbuilding even odder when it comes to naming. We have the unique named Celes – and he’s surrounded by Sam, Adam, Jaime, Arthur, Tom, etc. The character was screaming ‘special!’ just a bit too obviously. And why is everyone still using fairly biblical names except one?
The plot: a mysterious old wizard, who only speaks in riddles, watches over a special boy as he grows up, who then goes to a magic school and makes friends with outcast girl and boy, and overturns a plot by an evil sorcerer while dealing with stupid adults. Sound familiar? felt just a bit too Harry Potter. There are other races/creatures that befriend our Harry here but still – up until the very end the overfamiliarity of the plot, weak characters, lack of impetus of the plot, and real world dialogue made this a hard read to really get into.
The one positive here is that the ending was completely unexpected and definitely NOT Harry Potter. I appreciated that ending but felt it was too late in coming to really redeem the book as a whole.
There was potential here and the author says that the current alternate universe setting will have a large impact in future volumes. I am hoping for better characterization next volume.
Reviewed from an ecopy provided by the publisher.