Friday, March 13, 2015

Story Thieves by James Riley, 2015

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Life is boring when you live in the real world, instead of starring in your own book series. Owen knows that better than anyone, what with the real world’s homework and chores.
But everything changes the day Owen sees the impossible happen—his classmate Bethany climb out of a book in the library. It turns out Bethany’s half-fictional and has been searching every book she can find for her missing father, a fictional character.
Bethany can’t let anyone else learn her secret, so Owen makes her a deal: All she has to do is take him into a book in Owen’s favorite Kiel Gnomenfoot series, and he’ll never say a word. Besides, visiting the book might help Bethany find her father…
…Or it might just destroy the Kiel Gnomenfoot series, reveal Bethany’s secret to the entire world, and force Owen to live out Kiel Gnomenfoot’s final (very final) adventure.

(400 pages)

Hmm. I'm not really sure what to say about this one. Did I love it? Did I hate it? Well, neither. Not yet, anyway.

The plot seems all over the place at times, but it actually comes together pretty cohesively by the end of the book. My main trouble, when I really come down to it, is the characters. Bethany especially just isn't particularly realistic. She's more of a stock character: she's got magical powers, one of her parents is missing/dead, she has this huge secret she hides from the rest of the world, and on and on. The fact that she's been going into books for years behind her mother's back for years makes her, to me at least, a little too dishonest to really be that sympathetic. I also felt like there was no way she'd really open up to some random classmate the way she did, and I seriously started questioning her judgement when she agreed to take Owen into the Kiel Gnomenfoot series. I mean, hello? What did she think was going to happen if she took this kid into his all-time favorite book series? She did get better as the story went along, though. Bethany didn't exactly become my favorite character in the world, but I have hope for her development in the later books. Riley has prepared some great set-ups for the next books, and if I had to guess he'll make me absolutely adore Bethany, Owen, and Kiel (who, by the way, is probably my favorite character yet) by the end of the series.

And that's really the crux of this review: I think this book is a set-up for the books ahead. If Riley does a wonderful job with the later books (as I'm 95% sure he will, based on his Half Upon a Time trilogy), then someday I'll look back at Story Thieves and have a ball reading through it again, because there will be all sorts of hints and foreshadowing that I totally missed without foreknowledge. I'll go back to retrace the beginnings of whatever relationships Riley chooses to favor in the later books (my money's totally on Bethany and Kiel!), and watch characters in a different light because I know what secrets they're hiding, or what will happen to them down the road. In a few years, I think I'll love Story Thieves because it is a beginning of a new series by a writer who is amazing at making me laugh, cry, and fall in love. Until then, this is a so-so book that makes an okay standalone, one that holds potential but no concrete prize. The best part was probably the ending, because it sets the stage for awesomeness in the second book.

If you want to read a James Riley, I recommend starting with his wonderful Half Upon a Time series. Story Thieves has potential, but doesn't hold a candle to Riley's crazy-fun fairy-tale spin-off. Of course, that could change - like I said, everything hinges on the rest of the series.

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