'Seeker' (5 out of 10) Written by Arwen Elys Dayton. Published by Random House Children's. Available 02/10/15.
Arwen Elys Dayton's “Seeker” is an unusual book to review. As often happens, I am reviewing a book for which I am not the target audience (teen / young adult). However, it is a genre of which I am a fan. It also melds many of my, and probably your, favorite elements of other stories. There are certainly good parts to the book, and I enjoyed reading it. There are also a lot of parts borrowed heavily from other material – and those parts have already been done better. So it's entertaining, but it isn't good. Let's take a little closer look at what I mean.
While the teen and young adult genre has had a strong showing over the years (“The Giver,” “Ender's Game”), it has exploded more recently. This is something I credit to J.K. Rowling. Her Harry Potter stories created a love of reading in many middle school age children, and her tales evolved with her audience, eventually ending in a fairly heavy emotional tome with Harry's final year. This was quickly joined by the Percy Jackson series, “The Hunger Games,” “Red Rising,” etc. For “Seeker” to even be mentioned in conjunction with these series should be a great honor. It's unfortunate that this one pales in comparison. While Rowling, Card (despite being a distasteful homophobe), and Riordan were able to create intriguing versions of Joseph Campbell's hero, Dayton is able to only create a cookie cutter version of the same. Picture Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, Katniss Everdeen, and Ender Wiggin having a creepy, emo (but very PG-rated) orgy. Now think of them as being siblings. This is the inbred spawn of that terrifying night.
Protagonist Quin Kincaid is less whiny than Anakin Skywalker, but less effective than Ender Wiggin. Her antagonist father is less menacing than Darth Vader; but her love interest, John, is a bigger weenie than Peeta Mellark. Being a Seeker is somewhat akin to being a Jedi or wizard. Unfortunately, anyone we see using these powers is crippled by their own psychoses or a complete self-loathing. Sure, being a teenager, especially one with a self-appointed task to save the world, can be emotionally daunting. But can't we see that without rehashing dozens of tropes we've already seen in other teen novels.
Now's probably a good time to re-focus on the plot of “Seeker.” Quin is being trained, with her boyfriend and “cousin” (if you guessed love triangle you win today's episode of trope trivia), to be a Seeker. Seekers are sort of ninja-Jedi-wizards with magic, shape-changing swords (a la the Yuuzhan Vong or the sword from “Red Rising”). They use ancient relics to teleport around the world and save people. Except Quin and her companions find out their trainers, her father and “uncle,” are actually Sith, not Jedi. Cue the conflict; one of the three turns out to be the kind of Sith who wants to kill other Sith and you have a plot.
Wait, how many times did I just reference “Star Wars?” To be fair, “Star Wars” is sort of my social yardstick. If you're a biblical person, Greek hero enthusiast, Anime fan, comic book reader, etc. you can probably fill in your own Mad Libs for everything I'm mocking.
In all fairness, Random House solicited this book to me as being “For readers of “A Game of Thrones” and “The Hunger Games.” That means you're inviting these comparisons, and this book doesn't compare (especially to the sex and violence filled “Game of Thrones”). However, if you know a young reader who enjoys stories of adventure, magic, and (ugh) love triangles, you could do worse than buying them this book. For the passive consumer of media this will be an entertaining, if formulaic, read. If you're trying to engender a love of literature for a discerning young reader, this one will make a good counterpoint. Be sure they read “The Hunger Games” and “Ender's Game.” Then have them read “Seeker.” Now they'll understand the difference between being simply entertaining, and being both good and entertaining.
Arwen Elys Dayton's “Seeker” (Random House Children's) is available February 10, 2015 from Amazon and other retailers.