by DJ MacHale
Book 1 of the Sylo Trilogy
Reading Level: Middle School
Reviewed by J. C., grade 9
Pemberwick Island, Maine is a small yet peaceful place...until one night Arbortown High's star quarterback Marty Wiggins suddenly drops dead with no apparent cause. Within a few days, a United States military group called SYLO drops in and blocks off the entire island from the rest of the world. The group is headed by Captain Granger, who informs the residents of the island that there is a deadly virus on the island responsible for Wiggins’s death, that must be stopped before it spreads. Tucker Pierce, who witnessed Wiggins’s death, notices many other suspicious things going on around town, including an aircraft explosion and a traveling salesman selling substances that can make you superhuman. Tucker soon finds out there is more to SYLO than they’re letting on, and with the help of his friends tries to find the truth of what’s really happening.
If I were to rate SYLO from 1-5, I’d give it a solid 3. DJ MacHale can still craft engaging story lines. However that’s the only thing keeping this book afloat. None of the characters are really memorable and most are two-dimensional stereotypes that are only there to try to get you invested in the story. I felt like I was being told everything through text instead of through action and events in the plot. The pacing was all over the place, and the foreshadowing and character development felt obvious and forced. Every element of this book felt like it was being used to advance the plot, giving me no time to really care about the characters and their barely existent motivations. And the story is amazing. It’s interesting and I want to see where it goes. But the finer details of the story just hold this book back.
I would recommend it to middle schoolers looking for a fun and simple story to pass the time. But anyone looking for complex characters or writing that challenges their view of the world is looking for something else.
I read the first three of D.J. MacHale's Pendragon series, of which Merchant of Death is the first, and while they were a little too "talky" for my taste, I completely understood why MacHale has so many tween and teen fans. The adventures are imaginative and individual, Bobby is plausible, everything pretty much works. I recommend them constantly to a certain age and type of reader. I didn't love them enough to read the whole series, though, because ultimately I found Bobby's internal monologue and constant self-reflection a little tedious.
When I heard that MacHale was writing a sci fi series, I was excited on behalf of all his young fans. So I am sorry to say that I didn't care as much for this book.
It started strong (I love books about small, enclosed cultures on islands!)...but then ensued an entire novel of running around in circles. Lots of action scenes, very few explanations, and the clues weren't enough to lead me anywhere. I became impatient with the main characters' constant speculation about what was happening, because at a certain point anyone could see where things were probably heading, but no one said so, leading me to believe that they were either in on it, or they were the most oblivious people on the island. I felt like there were a lot of manufactured crises, and after they escaped the fifth or sixth one only to fall prey to the next, I just got tired.
I imagine that some of D.J.'s fans will love this series--judging from other reviews on Goodreads and elsewhere, many people liked it a lot more than I did. And I will refer you to a previous review on this blog by teen reviewer Allen, who did in fact love it. So I will buy the rest of the series for the library…but I doubt I'll be reading it myself.