The Phoenix Files: Arrival


Author: Chris Morphew

Publication: 2011, Scholastic

Pages: 291

Overall Rating: bth_35_zps7a173504[1]

Rating for Action: bth_35_zps7a173504[1]

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

Age Category: 9-12

Brief Summary:  When Luke’s mom drags him to Phoenix, a brand new town in the middle of nowhere, his biggest worry is when he’ll be able to contact his dad.  Well, that and the fact that Phoenix has no cars, no phones, and no internet access.   But all that fades into nothing when he learns the truth.  The people who built Phoenix have kept it isolated for a reason – so that the residents there will survive the apocalypse they plan to unleash on the world.  The human race has 100 days and counting, and the only thing standing between us and total destruction is three teenage kids.

Age of Main Character: 15

What I Liked the Most: Morphew eases us into the end of the world.  On page one, Luke provides just enough exposition to wet our appetites – When we flew out to Phoenix a couple of weeks ago, it never really entered my head that I might be triggering a countdown to the end of the world, or that I’d be the one who had to try to stop itWith that intriguing opening, Morphew then pulls back and gives us a chance to get to know Luke as he explores his new home in the corporate town of Phoenix.   We catch hints here and there that things aren’t exactly kosher, but it’s not until page 65 or so that the story begins to curve back around to the end of the world.  In some books, that slow build up could be a real turnoff, but this is the first in a six book series – and since we’re just settling in for what could be a long ride, I appreciated the fact that Morphew took his time in setting the stage.

From there the evidence builds up bit-by-bit, following a natural pace and progression – never too fast and never too slow.  Peppered throughout are intriguing hints and clues for what might be coming down the road.

What I Liked the Least: As I said, this is the first volume in a six book series, and as the story unfolds I expect we’ll find the true villain at the heart of things.  But taking this first book on its own, there wasn’t a clear villain.  The closest we come is the town’s head of security, but he’s not particularly scary and actually treats the kids with a large amount of care and respect.  I realize that the coming disaster may be the true enemy – but it’s a created disaster, a terrorist act, and even though there are more books to come I wanted at least a glimpse of the villain behind it all.  Not having that makes the story fall a bit flat.

My other real problem is the rational that Luke and his friends use for keeping their discoveries secret – that their parents would be far too likely to rush in, demanding answers and getting themselves hurt.  That’s fine for now, but as the tension builds and the crap gets closer to hitting the fan, Morphew had better come up with another reason why the adults can’t help.  There are 2,000 people in Phoenix and whatever’s being planned only a handful of them know about it.  If the secret got out, then Luke and his friends would have a whole lot of allies.  So whatever’s coming in future books, Morphew is going to have to do a better job of explaining why that can’t happen

How Good was the Action? Decent.   There aren’t a huge number of action sequences.  Most of the tension in the book revolves around the discoveries that Luke and his friends make – each one another nail in the coffin of the human race – played off against the terrifying threats and rantings of a character known only as Crazy Bill.  But there are some decent action sequences sprinkled throughout – especially one where Luke and his friends break into a secret warehouse.  The action in those sequences relies more on emotional tension than blow-by-blow detail.  It won’t knock your sock off, but it does the job and is good enough to keep you turning the pages

How Engaging was the Story? It’s hard to imagine a tenser situation – you’re arrival in a quiet, off-the-grid town has triggered the end of the world and you’re the only person in a position to stop it.  The clock is ticking – and if you don’t act then your dad, and everyone else on the planet, will die.

Morphew does a great job of building the tension, each new discovery adding an extra layer of proof, an extra hurdle for Luke and his friends to surmount.  And each chapter starts by listing the number of days left.  But that works against him, too.  It’s 100 days spread over six books, and by the end of book one we still had 88 days left.  While I appreciated Morphew’s slow and deliberate start, once the secret was out he should have picked up the pace.  Because the slower the book moves, the more time Luke and his friends seem to have, which cuts down on the tension Morphew is working so hard to build.

Profanity: None

Sex: None

Violence: Some, but it’s mostly off-screen so to speak.  We only witness one or two fairly low key acts of violence.

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