Greetings, greetings! (Also: spoilers contained within. You have been warned.)
So. the Pendragon books. The brainchild of D.J. MacHale. I started reading them when I was ten or eleven, and carried through until the very end. And then, after I graduated, I read them again. Admittedly, I found them somewhat lackluster, by comparison to the first read-through. But I expected that. After all, I know all of the plot twists.
But I got a hankering again, not too long ago, and I dove back in from the very beginning: The Merchant of Death.
Here's what I've found, rereading it the third time, and the first time with an authorial eye.
The plot in these books is excellent. I want to point that out. It's all very solid, even if it doesn't make any sense until the very end of the book. The influence of Saint Dane (the antagonist) is, for the most part, subtle. At least on the grand scale on which these battles are fought. A merchant on Denduron, selling the miners the weapons they need for revolt. A scientist on Cloral, not so innocently making a fertilizer that happens to make crops poisonous. A friendly lounge singer with some very shaky mob ties on First Earth.
However, where I find plot falling apart is in the grander scheme. Not that it's a weak plot, at all. It couldn't be a weak plot, otherwise it wouldn't have carried ten successful books. What I've found is that the tension breaks... awkwardly at the end. There's a black moment, where Bobby sees his home territory of Second Eath destroyed. 70,000 people are sent off to another dimension. Or maybe they were killed. Who can say. In his rage, Bobby kills the man responsible. And Saint Dane tells him that was the final test. And he failed.
Now, through these books, we've been asking the same question as Bobby. Why him? Why any of the people chosen for this insane job of Traveler (those people who fight Saint Dane)? How does any of this work. Well... here's where the plot falters, at least for me. The black moment is the end of book nine, Raven Rise. The answers to our series-long questions come within the first five chapters of book ten, The Soldiers of Halla. For me, as a reader, it feels like a climax. We know. We finally have answers. Which makes it hard to then keep reading. Sure, Saint Dane's not dead and Third Earth still has a chance for survival. But we've hit the climax for the series before the climax for the final book. At least, for me, it was the climax.
All that being said, once you get past that and into the actual plot of The Soldiers of Halla, it's a good plot, too. It's just... overshadowed by the revelation of what are easily the series' biggest secrets.
The characters are just as incredible as the plot would suggest. And, unlike in many books, Bobby, the main character, is actually likable. I find that, in most YA books I read, the main character is tolerable, most of the time, with flashes of likability. Harry Potter and Katniss Everdeen stand out as prime examples of this. But Bobby is just some scared kid, whipping through dimensions and watching people get murdered. Get poisoned. Fight to the death as entertainment. And you feel for him, because he's a good guy.
The other characters are just as wonderful, too, but, for the sake of being concise, I'll limit myself to just one more: Saint Dane. The shapeshifting, immortal, genocidal, demon traveler. So yeah, he's pretty good at being bad. But that, to me, is not why he succeeds. In fact, I can pinpoint why he succeeds. It's a precise and brilliant moment. He's talking with Bobby (Saint Dane is a very classic, rug-chewing villain in a a lot of ways. The man likes his speeches) and points out that they both tamper with the way things are on the territories. In fact, for a while, Saint Dane had me convinced that he was in the right. The travelers run around, trying to stop him, while at the same time imposing the morals and ideas from their home territories on these other people. Who knows what effect that could have. Saint Dane can see all time and space. He can pinpoint his changes and direct them. He can go at it with precision instead of the potential toxic leak of the travelers. In fact, we even find out, in book ten, that Saint Dane started out with the noblest of intentions.
Of course, they were skewed. And so was he. But he started with a good plan, and he's so damn charismatic even I believed in him for awhile.
All in all, I recommend these books, especially if you're a young adult or you enjoy young adult sci-fi/fantasy. There's some rough writing in the beginning, but he has all the kinks polished out soon enough.
Definitely still 4 stars, as a series.