Sunday, September 9, 2012

Lorien Legacies : Rise of Nine - In which we meet Setrakus Ra !!

"Until the day I met John Smith, Number Four, I'd been on the run alone, hiding and fighting to stay alive.

Together, we are much more powerful. But it could only last so long before we had to separate to find the others. . . .

I went to Spain to find Seven, and I found even more, including a tenth member of the Garde who escaped from Lorien alive. Ella is younger than the rest of us, but just as brave. Now we're looking for the others--including John.
But so are they.

They caught Number One in Malaysia.
Number Two in England.
And Number Three in Kenya.
They caught me in New York--but I escaped.
I am Number Six.
They want to finish what they started.
But they'll have to fight us first."

         First, the stick, then the carrot. The Lorien Legacies series isn't as polished or emotionally resonant as, say, Suzanne Collins The Hunger Games. But that's comparing it to the best of the best in the YA universe. Judged on its own merit, the Lorien Legacies constitute rip-roaring, page-turning reads. I can't get enough of them, never mind that the narrative structure is sometimes clunky. The author Pittacus Lore - and, of course, I'm referring to the real authors behind the pseudonym: Jobie Hughes and James Frey - has improved book by book, in storytelling, in pace, in dialogue, and in not aggravating them rigid grammarians quite so much.

And, by the way, if you haven't yet read the first two books, why are you reading this?

With The Rise of Nine, third of a proposed six, we're treated to three first-person narrators who recount their adventures on alternating chapters. We're familiar by now with John Smith's (Number Four) and Marina's (Seven) voices. Now we also get to experience Six's perspective. Six, by the way, has my vote for best character in the series. She exudes that sense of sheer competence and quiet badassery, and Six doesn't feel the need to be all smirky and smug about it.

Skip this paragraph to avoid a history lesson: When the warlike alien Mogadorians plundered the planet Lorien, nine special Loric children - nine members of the Garde - were spirited away to Earth. On our world, these children scattered to the winds and hunkered down and abide their time, in constant fear that the Mogadorians would track them down. The farfetched hope is that these nine - guided and trained by their respective Cêpans (mentors) - would develop and hone their extraordinary abilities (or "legacies") and so take the fight to the enemy and restore their home world. A mystic charm protects the nine, a safeguard which dictates that these children can only be slain in numerical order. As mentioned elsewhere, the kid designated "Number One" probably didn't think this was the coolest thing ever. "Number Nine" begs to differ.

When the series opened, Numbers One through Three had already been chased down and murdered. I am Number Four, The Power of Six, and this one, The Rise of Nine, tells the story of the remaining Nine, of how they, one by one, reunite with each other. The relentless Mogadorians - not about to wait until the kids grow fully into their powers - have stepped up their efforts to hunt them down. In The Rise of Nine we finally attach a face to the Mogadorian horde. We meet the fearsome big bad, Setrákus Ra, who had disposed of Numbers One thru Three.

The Rise of Nine picks up right where The Power of Six leaves off. We end up tracking two story arcs. We keep tabs on John Smith, Nine, and John's remarkable, shape-shifting chæmera pet Bernie Kosar as they're still on the run and recovering from their harrowing escape from the Mogadorian cave in West Virginia. I admit that John Smith is rocketing up my crap list for his constant mooning over his girlfriend Sarah. And now he harbors guilt over his forced abandonment of his human best friend, Sam Goode, who was captured in the cave. Nine is in full-on jerk mode as he constantly belittles John's loyalties to his human friends and berates him for not focusing more on their ultimate goal.

Meanwhile, halfway across the world, Six, Marina (Seven), Ella (Ten, yes, there's a ten!), and Ella's unofficial Cêpan vacate Spain and journey to India, chasing down wild rumors that may eventually lead them to another of the Garde. Stuff happens to them.

This book feels exactly like what it is - the middle of a six-volume arc. There's plenty of rousing action, even bits of character development, and some plot advancement. But, really, all this is, is "Pitaccus Lore" introducing more of his players onstage. And I'm cool with that. I relished the kids' interactions. I was very curious about what the group dynamics would be like. The author(s) does a good job of establishing distinct personalities amongst the Garde. It's really nice to see Marina, shy and hesitant, asserting herself and becoming a steady asset to the team. Other readers have complained that Six and Seven's narrative voices are too similar, but I disagree. I had no trouble differentiating between the two.

As usual, a big draw are the kids' respective skill sets and their application of them. While all of the Nine seem to uniformly exhibit super-strength and telekinesis, their other legacies vary from each other. And I savor the superhero elements. The skirmishes are frequent and unfold with cinematic swagger. There are revelations concerning what's going on between the Mogadorians and the U.S. government. And if you thought you'd seen the last of Sarah Hart - she who betrayed John Smith - think again...

So, by the end of the book: One more number surfaced. A hindi god exposed. An alarming prophecy divulged (which doesn't bode well for most of the Loric Nine, given the nature of the protective mystic charm). The FBI on the wrong side. Six being badasss. Bernie Kosar being awesome. One or two teen crushes developed (hey, this is a YA series, after all). One all-out rescue mission. A showdown with predictable results. A smooth flow to the story. I liked The Rise of Nine, read it in one go, missed work the next day. So bring on the fourth book. And bring on Number Five.