Bobby Pendragon is a normal middle-school kid and life is good. He’s the most valuable player on the basketball team and he’s just found out that Courtney, the girl he’s had a crush on for years, has a crush on him, too! Life could not be better… until Uncle Press arrives while Bobby is kissing Courtney and drags Bobby away to a medieval world where some oppressed people need Bobby’s help. For Bobby has special powers and: A Destiny! When Bobby disappears, Courtney and Mark, Bobby’s best friend, get worried and start investigating. They can’t find Bobby, but they do receive a letter from him which details all that’s happening to Bobby in Denduron.
The Merchant of Death is the first novel in D.J. MacHale’s young adult PENDRAGON series. It’s fast-paced and exciting, it has a likable teenage boy for a hero, there are monsters and explosions, and there’s even a little bit of cussing and kissing. Perfect for a 14 year old boy.
You can’t help but like Bobby. He’s the athletic good-looking kid who everyone likes. He loves his family and his dog, and he’s noble enough to have an unpopular geek for a best friend. Mark is also a great character, and we get to see him mature a little over the course of the novel. Likewise, beautiful and popular Courtney is smart and competent. The three kids make great protagonists, though they’re a little shallow at this point in the PENDRAGON series. I hope that will get better.
The plot of The Merchant of Death, even though it’s exciting, isn’t anything new. It also won’t hold up to the scrutiny of adults and teens who don’t want to work too hard to maintain their suspension of disbelief. The villains are preposterous caricatures, Bobby and his friends accept bizarre occurrences too readily, Bobby solves problems too quickly and easily, everything he needs is conveniently at hand, and even his special powers are amazingly opportune. Furthermore, it’s hard to believe that Bobby’s uncle has never mentioned Bobby’s special skills or connection to other worlds before he whisks Bobby off to save the day, and it’s also hard to believe that Mark and Courtney don’t solicit help from adults. I’m also not sure why MacHale chose to have Bobby narrate most of the plot in the form of letters to Mark and Courtney — I had a hard time believing that Bobby is sitting down recording his adventure in this way, especially since he’s far more verbose than any teenage boy I’ve ever encountered.
But I’m not a 14 year old boy and I expect that many teenagers will be completely entertained by The Merchant of Death. It’s well-written and fun, and a promising start to a long series. One of my boys read and enjoyed PENDRAGON a few years ago (I remember fetching all the books for him at the library), so I can confidently recommend the series to teenagers.
I listened to William Dufris narrate Brilliance Audio’s version. He’s really good!