The short: 2/5 ✦. The final installment of the Children of the Lamp series. A good solid, “MEH.”
It started off as a good series, truly. I remember reading The Akhenaten Adventure multiple times when I was younger, loving this particular interpretation of djinn (my first introduction to the concept beyond “Genie” from Disney’s Aladdin), learning about magic and Egypt, and wishing I too could be half-djinn. But maybe being on the bestsellers’ list got to Kerr’s head or maybe the editors slacked off a little (heaven forbid), because the rest of the series just isn’t that great. I don’t want to blame getting older, either, because I lost interest by around the fifth book, when I realized the only reason I asked for it for Christmas was because it bothered me that I owned the first four, but not the rest – and then it took me a few months to finally get around to reading it. I essentially gave up the series, and the reason I’m returning to it now is similarly because it bothers me that I never finished it. It takes quite a lot for me to designate a book or series as “DNF,” usually only due to sheer tedium (looking at you, Tom Clancy) or something I find offensive or otherwise upsetting. It rarely happens, and currently in my mission to put a slight dent in my neverending “To Read” list, I’m going back through all such series to finish them off once and for all! *cue confetti*
Back to The Grave Robbers of Genghis Khan. I will grant one concession to it being boring now that I’m older, because it also means I’m more widely read. It’s hard not to compare this book and its predecessors to Percy Jackson or the Bartimaeus series. Those books made you really care about the characters, care in the sense that you were happy when they were successful and cried when they failed (or died, as the case may be). Those characters also developed – or to put a less literary spin on it, they changed as time went on. Weaknesses became strengths, strengths revealed flaws, flaws were embraced, and the reader was carried along that bumpy, exhilarating ride. John and Philippa rarely roused my emotions, especially since they were often horrible to each other (in that bland, one-liner, Teen Nick kind of way). My favorite character was Nimrod, and only because he could do – and did do – everything in an awesome way, and it’s kinda hard to dislike someone like that.
In the sixth book, The Five Fakirs of Faizabad, I noticed the bizarre insertions of political opinion, obstinately put there by the narrator/author (the books are in third-person omniscient), and since these are firmly aimed at middle school children, it seems a bit odd for Kerr to be putting in these kind of “facts,” which are largely subjective, if not utterly ethnocentric. To be sure, he makes fun of the British quite often (as he himself is), but that doesn’t really excuse making sweeping generalizations about other cultures, even if it is a mostly positive way (or from a “racist” character like Groanin – “No, he said that because he’s xenophobic, hahaha, you’re not supposed to listen to him!”). I don’t know how else to describe it, but it was off-putting, and luckily, there wasn’t too much of that in the seventh book.
John and Philippa both have all the personality of a Wiki page describing them in outline form, and not much else. Philippa: book smart, sarcastic, loves animals. John: book dumb, a bit of a pushover, creative. And we’re told those traits multiple times, not shown in what they say or how they act. It’s the epitome of why it’s so important to show, not tell. And Kerr loves to tell. Again, I feel I have to compare him to Rick Riordan, whose novels are also full of interesting facts told both in descriptions and expository dialogue, but Kerr sticks such information in long paragraphs and monologues that would sound perfectly boring in actual speech. It’s not that much of an issue, since info dumps are always difficult to pull off, but the execution in this book still wasn’t the greatest. It doesn’t help that Kerr is fiercely British, and despite John and Philippa’s purported American cluelessness about that culture, they talk in a very English way, even using vocal mannerisms that no New York teen would ever use. Perhaps Kerr was trying to avoid Harry Potter allusions or appeal to the US market, but since practically everyone else is English or European, it might’ve been simpler to stick the whole series in England.
The ending wasn’t great. Not only did I see it coming from a mile away (rare for me, tbh), but again, because I really didn’t care about the twins, I didn’t care about them sacrificing their powers to save the world. On one hand, huzzah, they’re decent people who did the right thing because the alternative was world-ending destruction! But on the other, no fourteen-year-old (or forty-year-old, even) would give up reality-altering superpowers and not care at all. Philippa, at least, had a couple books’ worth of foreshadowing about her doubting her abilities, but John reveled in them, torturing a man with them mere days earlier in one very awkward scene. So for them to go happily back to their normal lives may have been Kerr trying to send some sort of important message about normalcy being just as cool as magical or something? Or that working for your wishes is better than instantly granting them? That one’s not so bad, but it was rather hammered home throughout the entire series, so to have it end up as a sort of punishment kinda misses the point.
Charlie and Axel’s deaths were sad only because they died quite awfully (and Charlie’s was certainly preventable), but I didn’t feel upset about them (nor did any of the other characters, really). The whole subplot with Groanin kept the action going between the dull carpet rides, but it ultimately petered out to nothing, so it was kind of a waste of time. And Alexandra was a really weird diversion, her portrayal vaguely offensive, and with the whole Cassandra truth thing, her presence largely pointless.
There’s no return of any previous secondary characters, and the villain isn’t exactly that villainous. Any dangling plot lines aren’t tied up, and no trailing mysteries are solved. If I had read them all recently (or at least, remembered them better), I probably would’ve been much more disappointed about that, but quite frankly, I just wanted to find out what happened at the end and finish this series for good.
Despite all the criticisms above, I know it’s really hard to write one book, let alone seven, and forget about it being popular enough to have any sort of demand. Kerr may have ended up dropping the ball with this series, but it did start off very strong and the entire concept was incredibly unique. The development of the djinn culture and how their powers work was solid, and research was definitely done in regards to ancient history and mythology. I’m glad I finished it, and I think I would recommend it as middle school reading, though preferably in a school or parental setting, where the more iffy bits can be explained properly. Lots of morals about wishing for – and getting – whatever you want, and why that can end up being a good or bad thing.
(And forgive the terrible header image, I already returned the book to the library before I wrote this review and forgot to photograph it.)
What did you think of the book? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Header image courtesy of Orchard Books.
EDIT: This is apparently my 100th blog post! Hooray! Not exactly the world-record-setting article I thought it might be, but huzzah nonetheless! 8D