The Medusa Project: The Set Up

The Medusa Project

Author: Sophie McKenzie

Note: Sophie McKenzie is a very popular author of YA thrillers and action/adventure novels in Britain, but her books haven’t really made it across to America and can be difficult to find here.  She does use a fair number of British words in her writing, so feel free to use of this glossary if you come across any words or slang you aren’t familiar with.

Publication: Simon and Schuster, 2009

Pages: 320

Overall Rating: bth_3-star-rating_zps73bdba73[1]                       

Rating for Action: bth_25_zps13f4f4eb[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_3-star-rating_zps73bdba73[1]

Age Category: 9-12

Brief Summary:  Nico’s mom died of cancer when he was just a little kid.  He’s been raised by his step-father, Fergus Fox, ever since.  Fergus is the headmaster of Nico’s boarding school, which makes his life extra fun.  If only those were the worst of Nico’s problems.

Nico can move things with his mind.  Problem is he has no idea how to control his power.  The first time it happened, he trashed the school auditorium.  His step-father tells Nico that he knows what’s happening.  But instead of helping him, Fergus treats Nico like a criminal.  He tells him his powers are evil and that he has to stop using them.  Now.   Only Nico has no idea how to stop.

It isn’t long before Nico discovers that he’s not alone.  There are other kids out there with powers – three of them to be precise.  One can read minds, one can make herself invulnerable to injury, and the third has dreams that reveal the future.  They were all given a special gene formula while they were still in their mother’s wombs.  And all of their mothers are dead.  But dangerous or not, there are people who want the formula – and they’re willing to kill for it.

Age of Main Character: 14

What I Liked the Most: McKenzie keeps the story realistic – or as realistic as she can for a book about kids with superpowers.  She never goes beyond the bounds of what four untrained kids with psychic powers should be able to do.   They take charge, and they take care of business – with a modest amount of help from some adults – but they’re not indestructible superheroes.  They can’t shoot lasers out of their eyes or fireballs from their hands.  And when someone has a gun, they get as scared as anyone else.

I also like the range of personalities McKenzie gave to her four teens and the very realistic ways they interact with one another.  Each one is a genuine individual, and their relationships are fraught with all the tension, misunderstanding, and lack of trust that you need to keep a story chugging along without ever feeling melodramatic.

What I Liked the Least: This is a small point, but it annoyed me enough that I’ll start off with it first.  Throughout the story, Nico keeps referring to his friend Kelsey as ‘Babe’.   He’s got a huge crush on her, but calling her ‘Babe’?  It just sounds kind of trashy and insulting.  And the fact that Kelsey didn’t get pissed off when he said it annoyed me even more.  It seemed like a totally unnecessary tag line.

Now on to bigger things.  The beginning of the story felt extremely abrupt.  The pace evens out after a bit, but the first 15 pages zip by at whirlwind speed, and I don’t mean that in a good way.  The primary reason is Fergus’s reaction to Nico’s use of his powers.  Given how Nico’s mom died, it’s kind of understandable that her husband would hate Nico’s power, but his explanation is so clipped that it doesn’t even make sense.  It left me feeling totally adrift, with no idea what was going on, and almost made me put the book down.  Plus, the reaction just doesn’t fit with Fergus’s personality as it’s revealed over the course of the book.

Finally, one of the villains, Carson, is supposed to be some super scary dude, the kind of guy you don’t want to mess with.  And he’s got Nico and everyone else terrified.  But we only know he’s supposed to be scary because someone said it.  He never actually does anything to show us why he’s so dangerous.  It made the tension McKenzie was trying to create feel false.

How Good was the Action?  It’s fairly well done, but there were only one or two scenes life threatening enough to raise my pulse.  Like I said, I didn’t ever feel like the main villain was all that dangerous.  He had a gun, but other than that he struck me as more of a playboy than a villain, and certainly not the kind of guy capable of inducing terror in others.  There was only scene, towards the end, that generated enough tension to really get the action moving.  The other scenes were serviceable, but lacked a real edge.

How Engaging was the Story?   This is a fun book, and I liked the mix of characters presented by Nico, Kelsey, Ed, and Dylan, but I never felt a real affinity for Nico.  He was too cocky and self-centered for my taste, and when he got into trouble I generally felt like it was his own fault.  That might not have been such a problem if Nico had grown and changed over the course of the story, but I don’t think he did – or not that much anyway.

So while I liked the range of personalities, the characters didn’t feel nearly as well drawn as in McKenzie’s other book, Blood Ties.

Overall Assessment: This is a decent read with a cool take on the kids with superpowers theme, one that keeps the powers relatively modest so that the hero’s can’t go around kicking bad guy butt at will.  It forces them to work hard for every victory and to be creative in the ways they use their powers.  But the characters aren’t as well developed as in some of McKenzie’s other books and the danger never feels real.  It’s a good story, but not a page turner.

Profanity: No

Sex: A bit of kissing

Violence: Minimal.  There is a gun that gets waved around and some people do get beaten up, but it’s fairly low key.

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