*I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.
First, let me just say that although I get why a lot of books are advertised as ‘a mix of …’ or ‘the new …’ Harry Potter, Narnia or Percy Jackson (duh, sales), it almost inevitably leads to disappointment. Let’s be honest: those who have loved Harry Potter and Narnia will probably not love that other book as much because it just isn’t Harry Potter or Narnia. That being said: I tried to have an open mind towards this book. It had generally gotten good reviews (3 to 4 stars average), although quite a lot of people seemed to have received a review copy (feeling slightly less special now – joking).
The book’s outline:
Eleven-year-old Luke Rayburn has never seen a skyline without skyscrapers or fallen asleep to anything but the sound of traffic. But his life is about to change in ways he never imagined. When his father leaves for a year of military service, Luke and the rest of his family move into their grandparents’ home in the remote town of Countryside, a place like no other. There, Luke will be drawn into a centuries-old quest for an almost-forgotten book whose secrets will determine the fate of the world. He will have to reach deep to discover the power within him as he battles the forces of darkness and an alliance of sinister men who seek to destroy any who get in their way.
Let me start with some positive points. I enjoyed Cope’s writing from the start. I did have some small issues here and there, but generally speaking Cope’s language is easy, smooth and clear. He obviously enjoys writing and I could definitely see that he has loved the process of creating this book. Another point in Cope’s favour is the story outline. I mean, even without the explicit Harry Potter reference, everyone would have guessed it was inspired by Rowling’s magnum opus. You could say it lacks creativity, but why not? It clearly works and I see why. Children like to read about characters their own age who experience incredible things and do the impossible. So next to Cope’s writing, the story outline is certainly well done.
You have a power within you, one that is within everyone … It’s the same power that fills that building, that keeps that tree alive … and the same power that has attracted your attention … I know it’s all a bit strange to you, but I assure you it is quite real…
Now over to the somewhat less positive points. I had not noticed the ‘Christian literature’ label on Amazon for this book, but it was almost immediately clear that it was. In the first chapter almost every person has a Biblical name and although even Luke is of course a Biblical name, it is one of the less obvious and more integrated ones. But Ishmael is not (unless you’re a big fan of Moby Dick). And I’m sorry, but those things make me cringe. Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed Narnia which is explicitly Christian, and I have enjoyed books like The Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter series which are both inspired by Rowling’s and Tolkien’s Christian faith, but this was just too obvious. I have to say that I don’t think many non-Christian kids will notice this anyway (just like I didn’t notice it in Narnia when I was younger), but just to put it out there.
Another less positive point was the fact that there were some cringing ‘traditional’ moments like the fact that Luke and his siblings are way too polite. I think this has partly to do with the author’s military and perhaps American background. In Western Europe, such politeness in children’s literature is just not done. It feels a little fake (although I don’t say that it is because I believe many children are brought up to be that polite), but it just doesn’t work in the UK for example. Another irritation was one remark in the second chapter that stayed with me throughout the rest of the book. When describing Luke’s family, Cope introduces Luke’s mum as a stay at home mum who does everything that is needed to keep the family running, which I was totally okay with, but not with the following words: ‘… and loving her husband’. Erm … excuse me? Is that a chore? A task she has to complete everyday? And what about Luke’s dad loving his mum? There is nothing about that in the book.
Now for the serious negative points. The first is the most irritable one: It. Is. Harry. Potter. But. Different. And not as good. There are just too many similarities, making it far from original. To be inspired by Rowling is one thing, but for fans of Harry Potter, this will read like a weak extract. The similarities range from relative vague ones (the world building and the fact that there are safe havens like Hogwarts of the town Countryside that are invisible to muggles/’normal’ people) to almost literal ones (a centaur giving astronomy lessons and being really, really vague and Luke hating travelling via a travel arch that is as nauseating as Harry’s experience with the Floo Network). Luke even has three friends, two boys and one girl, who remind the reader strongly of Hermione, Neville and Ron. These things may seem minor, but to a Harry Potter fan they are discreditable.
The other serious negative point is that Luke is a waiting a long time before taking any action. Things keep happening to him but he shows no interest in them at all. It is only in the last quarter of the book that he’s is taking some risks and gains control over his own actions. Like I said, children like to read about other children doing incredible things, and Countryside‘s Luke isn’t one of them – at least not until the very last.
I do not agree with the positive rating on Goodreads. I can see that Cope has talent and that he enjoys writing (hence the two stars), but it wasn’t enough. I would not recommend the book.