Code Lightfall and the Robot King by Daniel H Wilson

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Code Lightfall and the Robot King by Daniel H Wilson
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Genre: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: This techno-fantasy for young teens does not quite convince at first, but soon gains more than enough momentum to let us forgive its flaws.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 192 Date: February 2011
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 978-1408814192

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Code Lightfall is on a school trip to a prehistoric mound when he falls through a trap into another world, where everything is made of crystal, or metal, and the only living 'animals' are all robotic. It's a world under threat, so can he journey across its bizarre landscapes and save it all? And what is the truth of the mound, where his grandfather disappeared a year ago?

This comes across as 5% Picnic at Hanging Rock, 60% Tron, 20% Wizard of Oz, 2% Ali Sparkes' Monster Makers, and 10% the Spiderman enemies Venom and Doc Octopus. While that equals a unique combination, it's not one that is universally successful. There are hints of great invention, from the spider's web made of insect-zapping neon tubes up, but some smacks of being just too odd, or too glossed over, or both. The time difference between worlds makes no sense, for one.

It also feels to be far too episodic - initially in the mechanical world, Mekhos, it seems you can trim any chapter without the book suffering. By the end you can lay that accusation only at the door of one chapter, but it might still show debut novel syndrome when it becomes too linear, with not enough cause and effect, consequence and change impacting on the narrative.

The astute will see my numbers earlier do not add up. I deliberately left out the end, by which we're purely in Daniel H Wilson territory. It contains a twist too many will see far too early, and a strange godlike transformation, triggered by a bit too much violence, and I'm not totally secure in believing either are entirely appropriate. The vocabulary, large print and more suggest this is for a younger audience, who might possibly find things get too much.

On the whole, however, this was a fun read. The different various elements and the way they mesh satisfactorily does have to be read to be believed. The writing is vivid and while we never really get to fear for our world we will root for Code in his saving Mekhos. Especially with the British edition, which wears the clothes of the first in a series, only you fail to see how that's possible for a very good many pages. And despite a few forgivable problems this is lively evidence of great promise, and I wouldn't object to a sequel whatsoever.

I must thank the kind Bloomsbury people for my review copy.

A different romp in a more earthly world can be read in the brilliant Adam and the Arkonauts by Dominic Barker.

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