In our continuing focus on fantastical fiction for young and old, today we swing back to the younger side. The World of Eldaterra Volume One: The Dragon Conspiracy by P.R. Moredun was originally self-published in England before being picked up by the Harper Collins Eos imprint. Getting the worlds attention required an elaborate hoax (see here) but get there attention it did and now the key ingredient of the hoax is pictured on the front cover.
The Dragon Conspiracy involves two separate plot lines that eventually come together. One, set in 1985 involves a murder mystery and pregnant women. The other, set in 1910, involves the breaching of the portal between our world and the Eldaterra of the title. I have never been any good a crafting short pithy summations of book plots so let me cheat and steal Booklist’s on this one:
A stiff dose of Arthur Conan Doyle, ladles of Anglo-Saxon lore (via Tolkien), and a smidgen of Dahl weirdly coexist in this first installment of the World of Eldaterra series. James Kinghorn, a turn-of-the-century British schoolboy who acts younger than his 14 years, stumbles through a portal and discovers he has been preordained to defend the New World (our own) and its magical parallel world, Eldaterra, against bloodthirsty female dragons disguised as British ladies.
That is as good a description as I have seen. The question on many people’s mind is: should it have been elevated from the world of self-publishing to the world of $150,000 three book deals?
Well, as is true of so many things, it depends on your expectations. As is clear from the Amazon page, not all the reactions were positive. The School Library Journal wasn’t impressed:
This historical fantasy, originally self-published, jumps between separate story lines set in 1895 and 1910 that eventually come together, but neither is very coherent or exciting . . . The Tolkien influences are obvious, but Eldaterra pales in comparison to Middle-Earth. What should have been a thrilling battle against a giant spider is boring, and the talking animals lack originality. Too much of the plot here is recounted matter-of-factly, and the flat characterizations make this one to skip.
A number of the reviews are negative as well.
Much of the substance of these critiques are valid, if a little harsh. I think the key is what you are looking for. If you are looking for deeply drawn characters and fully explored alternate worlds you will be disappointed.
It is worth remembering, however, that the inspiration for the work is the stories the author told his children on long car rides. The book reflects that. Moredun basically drops you into the story and lets the story unfold without much background or character development. The plot moves at a quick pace and both story lines are wrapped in mystery and suspense. It reads more like an extended bedtime story than a fantasy epic.
It is also worth noting that this is a young adult story planed as a trilogy. That is not to say that elementary students don’t want depth or complexity, just that a good story doesn’t always have to been as deep and layered as Tolkien. Plus, with a trilogy you can develop the characters over time and flush out the alternate world as you go.
All in all I found the story entertaining. It was interesting to see how Moredun played out the two plot lines and then brought them together. On one hand you have a mystery plot and on the other you have a fantasy adventure.
Was the story thin in parts and the characters a little pedestrian at times? Sure, but I found the adventure peaked my interest and the underlying mystery kept me reading. Perhaps, my expectations were lower, or perhaps I look for different things from this type of book, but I found The World of Eldaterra a pleasant surprise given its self-published baggage and the fact that this is the author’s first book. I look forward to the next two books in the series to see how Moredun continues to develop the back story to Eldaterra and fills in some of the details about the main characters.