Two for the Blog of One: J. Fitzgerald McCurry and Eoin Colfer
J. Fitzgerald McCurry, The Fiire Demons: The Mole Wars Book One (New York: Harper Collins, 2004).
A very well written book but which is essentially an Atlantean type story, and this "lost races" motif undermines both the child's empowerment and the interest in the book.
Steele (the names are ridiculous) notices that children are being stolen away. One of them is Dirk, the boy who has bullied him viciously--this is one of the most effective parts of the book, but after Dirk is stolen it comes to nothing.
Steele is found by Maddie Fey and told that he is really an alien and a mage. He is part of an ancient race who long ago buried evil creatures they have called Terrorists into the lava of the earth. There the beings have mutated into fire devils and are now breaking through to attack the earth.
Periodically we get little missives about how the nice aliens nurtured Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens.
At the end Steele and his friends Riley (a girl) and Mac, rescue some of the kids who have lost their memory and are now vicious, and they all head further into the adventure for the next book.
The one moment that is truly glorious is that Steele sees the future in the scarf his Grandmother (also an alien mage) is knitting. Against all of this though is the sense that Steele is merely a checker to be pushed from square to square. He seems to have even less intellectual independence than Garth Nix's Arthur Penhaligon. And of course, the fact that he is "born" a mage also tends to undermine any sense of a learning curve.
Eoin Colfer, The Supernaturalist (New York: Hyperion Books, 2004)
I enjoyed the Artemis Fowl books, but at the level of "there are lots of funny bits" rather than the story as a whole.
The Supernaturalist is clearly sf, but reading the book is a little like looking at a painting and realising that the best bit of it is the frame. Colfer does a really excellent job of creating a future world of poverty, pollution, genetic engineering and welfare orphanages where companies test their products, but this never quite gets integrated into the adventure, which is about gang of kids "ghostbusting" blue creatures who appear to be sucking out the life from people, but who actually take pain. Towards the end the novel deteriorates into a by the numbers wicked-corporations-and-their-exploitative-inventions riff, and the genetically engineered character--the brilliant Bartolli baby Ditto, turns out to have mystical healing powers and empathy. [someone, somewhere, needs to write an essay on compulsive mawkishness in "politics fit for children".
I think there are going to be sequels, and despite the cool comments above, I'll look forward to them, as this was clearly a "setting up" book of the kind we have become used to in series films (X Men for example). There was a clear sense of a dissonant world (this is one of the few books I've found to really try to imagine a new future), and a sense that changes in science and technology leads to social change. If Colfer can pull his world closer to his adventure, then I think the next book should be very good indeed.