Author: Anthony John

Publication: 2012, Penguin

Pages: 326

Overall Rating:

Rating for Action:

Quantity of Action:

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary: Thom is the first child born without an element – earth, water, wind, or fire – on his remote post-apocalyptic colony on the Outer Banks.  Or so he thinks.  But when pirates kidnap the colony’s Guardians, it’s up to Thom and his friends to save them – and the secrets they uncover will be enough to challenge everything they’ve ever held to be true.

Age of Main Character: 16

What I Liked the Most: John set the book on the real life islands of Hatteras and Roanoke, and he describes both with such loving detail that it almost feels as though you are there.  Roanoke in particular is so central to the story that it’s like a character in its own right.  From the ruined bridge to the salt marshes, to the skeletonized remains of the town on Manteo, it’s all real – changed and twisted just enough for us to know that this is a ruined, post-apocalyptic world.  And best of all are the hints – presumably fleshed out in future books – that the elemental powers possessed by the members of Thom’s colony somehow connect back to Roanoke’s original Lost Colony  – which disappeared without a trace back in the 1500’s in a mystery that continues to stump historians to this day.

The notion that everyone in Thom’s colony has – or is supposed to have – a special connection to the elements provides an intriguing twist.  Those with power over wind can predict storms, those with power over water can catch fish with their bare hands, those with power over earth can bring up buried root vegetables, and those with power over fire and set things alight – all useful talents in a world with electricity or modern technology.  And I loved the way that John wove these elements into the story – especially Thom’s struggle to understand his own lack of an element and the subtle clues as to what is really happening with him.

What I Liked the Least: The central villain of the piece is the pirate leader – Dare.  But I never felt like we saw him up close enough to really be afraid.  We catch glimpses of the violence he is capable of, but we don’t see enough to truly view him as a powerful and frightening figure beyond the fact that he leads a band of fifty odd armed pirates.  That’s frightening in its own right, of course, but John could have really upped the tension-ante by giving us more reasons to be terrified of him.

My other issue was that at times there are so many secrets being kept by everyone in the book that it got hard to keep track of what was really going on, to follow all the explanations for why this or that secret was so important, or to fully understand the truths that are slowly revealed.

How Good was the Action? It’s reasonably exciting.  Not first rate, but well done with enough energy to keep the scenes driving forward, particularly during the last quarter of the book when Thom and his friends are forced to finally face off with the pirates.  It’s not the reason you’ll read the book, but it definitely gets the job done.

How Engaging was the Story? Thom is a fascinating character, strong but constantly afraid that he is weak, bursting with a power he doesn’t even realize that he possesses.  I loved his tense and often uncertain relationships with Alice and Rose – the two opposing girls in his life – and the powerful bond with his deaf brother, Griffin.   But, even though it could be frustrating, what really drew me into the story were the painstakingly revealed secrets and lies that seem to lurk just beneath the surface of every aspect of Thom’s life.

Overall Assessment: An unusual post-apocalyptic tale set on North Carolina’s historic Roanoke Island.  It weaves together a fascinating web of secrets, lies, and unusual powers and sets the stage for what promises to be an intriguing series.

Profanity: None

Sex: A few very mild longings, but nothing more.

Violence: Some.  There is blood – though much of it comes from injuries we don’t see happening – and people do get hurt and even killed.  There are broken limbs and the like, but for the most part it all happens with minimal bloodshed.

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