PUBLISHER: Hyperion Book CH
LENGTH: 336 pages
SUMMARY: (via barnesandnoble.com) In this fantastical thriller, five young teens tapped as models for theme park “guides” find themselves pitted against Disney villains and witches that threaten both the future of Walt Disney World and the stability of the world outside its walls. Using a cutting-edge technology called DHI—which stands for both Disney Host Interactive and Daylight Hologram Imaging—Finn Whitman, an Orlando teen, and four other kids are transformed into hologram projections that guide guests through the park. The new technology turns out, however, to have unexpected effects that are both thrilling and scary. Soon Finn finds himself transported in his DHI form into the Magic Kingdom at night. Is it real? Is he dreaming?
Finn’s confusion only increases when he encounters Wayne, an elderly Imagineer who tells him that the park is in grave danger. Led by the scheming witch, Maleficent, a mysterious group of characters called the Overtakers is plotting to destroy Disney’s beloved realm, and maybe more.
REVIEW: I was so excited to read this book. As a Disney fan and former Floridian, I am very familiar with Disney World and all its excesses. The premise of the book is fantastic: teenagers fighting evil through the attractions of the Magic Kingdom. But, oh, the disappointment. I enjoyed the ride references and scrabbling through the park with Finn and his companions but realized that anyone not as familiar with DW as I am would be confused. Rides like It’s a Small World and Space Mountain are well-known but if someone hasn’t been to the park in years, it might be difficult to imagine all the goings on. The thrill of the book is watching the DHIs navigate the geography of the park knowing where they are and what the rides encompass. Readers not familiar with the parks will most likely find the action confusing and abandon the book.
But where the book really breaks down is with the plot and character development. Even if navigation through the parks doesn’t deter readers, the giant leaps in reasoning and lack of investment with the characters might make them quit reading. Pearson poses an interesting scenario in having the DHIs able to “cross over” into the parks in their sleep. However, the Overtakers’ plan is unclear. Do they want to merely take over the parks? Do they want to destroy Disney World? Do they want to take over Orlando? Do they want to rule the world? All plots are plausible at some point in the story. The fable of the Stonecutter’s Quill is simplistic at best and the leaps in logic that Finn makes to discover the clues seem almost magical. One comment from Wayne inspiring the use of 3D glasses is farfetched.
And while the cast of characters is appropriately multicultural, none of them have depth. Why has Finn become the implied leader? What is it about him that makes him leader material? It is never clear. The other characters are just game pieces at best. No personality is ever given to any of them – so little, in fact, that I was constantly getting Charlene and Willa confused. (In fact, I couldn’t remember Willa’s name and had to look it up.) Maybeck was rememberable because of his ethnicity alone and Philby seems nothing more than a human fact generator. He could easily be replaced by a SmartPhone.
Mention of SmartPhones brings up another issue: park accuracy. The book was originally published in 2005. Since that time, Disney has made some significant changes to their parks. One of the biggest changes is that the original MGM Studios Park is now called Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The DHIs were hired and trained within MGM and the reference might cause confusion with the parks’ current names. In addition, in the last three years The Magic Kingdom has undergone significant updating within Fantasyland. There are new attractions and older attractions like the Dumbo the Flying Elephant ride, has been moved to a different location.
Overall, I think the reason that I kept reading was just to continue reminiscing about the Magic Kingdom. I miss being able to visit often and enjoyed the familiar surroundings. But ultimately, the story falls short of engaging and I didn’t care about any of the characters. Such disappointing fruit from a wonderful seed idea.