John McNichol kindly sent me a review copy of his new Young GKC book, and I keep forgetting that I still have not posted a full review. I also keep forgetting to get Mr. Boy to write his review. Mine is here for you now.
What it is: Emperor of North America is the second in the series, following Tripods Attack. It’s an alternative history in which Young GK Chesterton is an American trying to make it as a journalist in steampunk England. In book one, Martians invade. In book two, Martians are back to Mars (for now?), but there is big trouble from a certain earthling who’s gotten hold of martian technology. If I were to give it a sub-genre, I’d vote “fast-paced epic catholic action-adventure alternate history”.
Who reads it: Mr. Boy was, my goodness, eight? really?, when he read the first book. Thereabouts. He’s not a normal reader. I’d vote 10-11 is the earliest normal boy age, or whenever your child picks up Lord of the Rings and won’t put it down. Target audience is middle school and up. [Young GKC doesn't require nearly the endurance you'd need for epic Tolkien. You do need to be able to read big words and keep track of a complex plot, but the writing is very action-packed, doesn't bog down at all.] Grown-ups who enjoy a good story will find plenty of fodder for the intellect — GKC quotes, literary references, and of course trying to figure out the intrigue.
Mature Content Rating: Mild PG for the violence. Language is clean (expletives like “blast!”, and all sorts of genuinely colorful but never off-color insults). The romance and discussions of romance are clean as you could manage and still get close enough to kiss; my 11-year-old tells me he just skips those parts anyway, which are written for young men who think girls are no longer gross. The evil violence is chilling, but there’s no lingering on graphic descriptions, and despite the intensity of the opening pages, the overall proportion of such scenes throughout the book is modest. (FYI, the alien scenes in Tripods are super gross. Not for squeamish middle-aged ladies. But no trouble for boys.) There’s a couple of bar scenes, including a cautionary tale about drunkenness.
What if steampunk and/or sci-fi are not my genre? The GKC is awesome. McNichol recreates young GKC superbly. The other historical and literary references are just as good, and fun to figure out. Some have, like GKC, an alternate past, and I was especially impressed with how McNichol nailed the “What if _________ hadn’t _________?” with one of the main characters. Just perfect. Loved it.
[FYI: All my friends love sci-fi, but I think it is kind of boring. I do not find this series boring, not for a second. More like, "fighting with my son over who gets to read it first," and "I know I should go to bed, but . . . ." My taste in fiction runs to Agatha Christie, Ellis Peters, Jane Austen, John Grisham, Tom Clancy, etc. And Wodehouse, of course. If you sort of mash those together, the young GKC series fits right in.]
What if GK Chesterton and literary puzzlers are not my genre? There’s spaceships. Giant robots. Chase scenes. Intrigue. Mysterious pasts. John McNichol is really good at writing action. And bad guys. I’m going to see if I can’t beg him to teach a class on writing bad guys at the next CWG online conference.
Who shouldn’t read this book? People who have to be so serious about everything. Also if you can’t stand genre fiction.
I heard it is ‘preachy’. Um, no. Catholic? Yes. I suppose it’s one of the troubles with a book written by a guy who teaches middle school — normal teens talk about love, God, angels, apparitions, all that stuff. It’s only adults who think these things are taboo. I *think* non-Catholics who are comfortable with Catholic characters being noticeably Catholic should be okay; someone correct me if you disagree, I haven’t read it with a protestant lens on. [I'll post an update on that if need be.] Most of the could-be-preachy stuff is things like “what’s the difference between love and infatuation?” or “is religion merely a crutch for the despicable weak?” — topics of general interest, not strictly Catholic.
Final Recommendation? I give it a ‘buy’ recommend if there’s room in your book budget and the genre sounds at all interesting. It’s very readable, and McNichol has the keep-the-plot-moving thing down pat. I do strongly recommend you buy both in the series if you haven’t already read Tripods.
Where to get your copy: Barnes and Noble has Emperor of North America in stock in paperback and Nook version, and Tripods Attack in paperback. Amazon has Emperor in paperback and Kindle version, take a look at the Kindle preview to get started on the story and see if you want to buy. Amazon has Tripods in the Kindle version, and again the Kindle preview is your reality-check.
Sophia originally published Tripods, and I see they have it back in stock in paperback. This has brought back down used prices, which had briefly gone silly-high — shop around on B&N and Amazon if your budget is tight, ignore the weird artifacts floating in the cybermall. Bezalel is the publisher for Emperor, and you can buy the print version direct on their site. (As I write, Bezalel is offering free shipping on McNichol’s book — nice!)
Aquinas & More has copies of Tripods in stock (paperback — and you can add it to your wedding or ordination registry, I love that), and so does The Catholic Company (no registry, write Santa I guess). But if you love all that is good and true, of course you will first ask if it can’t be stocked via your local Catholic bookstore. They can order these things, you know.
Things you need to know re: the famous ‘full disclosure’: I’m a total Tripods/Emperor groupie. The kind of person who gathers up godchildren and treks across town to get a book signed, and totally thinks that is the highlight of a trip to the Pacific Northwest. The whole “my niece is being confirmed” was just a pretext — I mean, yes, sacraments were administered, relatives visited, every good thing. But wow! A signed copy! Yes! Pizza with Author & Family! Woohoo! Also John writes for the Catholic Writers Guild blog, and generally gives evidence of being a Pretty Nice Guy. But you may recall from ancient blog history that I liked the first book long before I had any reason to like the author.