Saturday, October 18, 2014

Kingdom Keepers: Disney After Dark by Ridley Pearson, 2005

In this fantastical novel, Disney's Magic Kingdom suddenly becomes a bit eerie. Finn Whitman and four other teens have been hired as Disney World guides, but with an odd twist: With cutting-edge technology, they have been transformed into hologram projections capable of leading guests around the park. What begins as an exciting theme park job turns into a virtual nightmare as Finn and his pals attempt to thwart an uprising by a menacing group of Disney villains.

First, I want to quickly sum up how I got this book. I was at Barnes and Noble with twenty dollars in gift cards, an hour to kill, and no brand-new hardcover money-grabbers to blow all my money on in one go. So, I bought three paperbacks instead: Because of Mr. Terupt, Out of My Mind, and Disney After Dark. I had read both of the other books previously (and, as an aside, absolutely adored them), but Kingdom Keepers was a new find. I'd seen tue fourth book around before multiple times but never the first, so seeing Disney After Dark at Barnes and Noble prodded me into taking the plunge of buying an unknown book. 
Five years ago I (and, seemingly, the rest of the world) fell in love with the Percy Jackson series. And how did I discover Percy Jackson, you might be wondering? Well, you're probably not wondering, and you're probably wishing I'd just get to my review already. But I'll tell you fast: I got "The Lightning Thief" from Borders on a whim.
So, in the back of my mind I was hoping to find another great series like Percy Jackson in Kingdom Keepers. Keep this in mind as you read my review.
So. Kingdom Keepers. Disney After Dark. I have to admit, I thought the title was kind of cheesy when I started the series. I still do. But in a strange way, it fits the book - not that I'm saying the book is particularly cheesy (because it isn't), but it pretty much sums up the whole idea of the book.

Finn is a normal kid, except for the fact that there are holograms of him all over Disney World. You see, he and five other kids were chosen after auditioning to be scanned and projected throughout Disney World in Orlando, Florida as tour guides known as DHIs (which stands for both Disney Host Interactive and Daylight Hologram Imaging). The perks? Finn instantly became the superstar at school who everyone recognized from Disney World, he got a substantial amount of money for his college fund for the right to use his image and voice forever at Disney, and his family got mega gold packs so they could go to Disney whenever they wanted.

The downsides? Well, Finn can only go to Disney after specially clearing it with the security guards ahead of time, and only if he wears a hat so no one confuses real Finn with DHI Finn. This also means that when he sneaks into Disney World, he has to constantly be dodging guards who are trying to get him out of there before tourists spot his non-virtual-tour-guide self.

The side that's both up and down? Finn starts to dream he IS his DHI every single night. And there is a strange man named Wayne (an "Imagineer") in these dreams who claims that Disneyland is being threatened by the evil "Overtakers" - who include many of the villains from various Disney stories.

Finn tracks down the other four DHI hosts at their various schools, and learns they all are having the same dreams. When they all go to sleep within half an hour of one another, they are all in their DHIs at Magic Kingdom at the exact same place and can talk to each other.  These dreams aren't just dreams; they're real. Add Maleficent (the witch from Sleeping Beauty, utterly unrelated to the upcoming movie), who is an Overtaker, and two strange girls - one strangely helpful, one strangely stalking - and you've got a pretty good picture of Disney After Dark.

Now, in this kind of book deep characterization is a bonus, not a must. We barely meet Finn's parents. Each character has a personality trait that is why they're "part of the team." , but at the end of the day Finn is the leader, Maybeck is the rough kid with a softer inside, Philby is the computer genius, Charlene the girly make-up expert, and Willa is a girl, who is smart. They stay faithful to their personalities, though, and each has an individual flavor as a character - but if you asked me what Willa's main goal in life was, I couldn't answer farther than "help the Imagineers defeat the Overtakers."

Does it live up to Percy Jackson? Um, no. Sorry, but it's not quite humorous enough, and all the detailed references to Disney World, while fun (very fun!) are a bit confusing. It's good, though, and I've already gotten and read the second book (also in one go, these books aren't exactly Moby-Dick). I'll request the rest of the series from the library as soon as I pick up the nine books waiting for me right now.

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