Hunter Brown and the Secret of the Shadow by The Miller Brothers (Warner Press), first in the Codebearer Series, is actually the tip of a media iceberg, with related games and forums and videos as part of the Hunter Brown experience. One look at the Codebearer Web site reveals the broad and techno-savvy reach Christopher and Allan Miller are attempting. It is timely and certainly aimed perfectly at their target audience.
But the truth is, without a good story, none of the animation or challenges would draw in anyone. Fortunately, the Miller Brothers (Christopher and Allan) also know how to tell a good tale.
The Story. This is a portal fantasy. A “rambunctious” high school freshman, on the last day of the school year, initiates a prank that leads to high adventure in another realm and to his own death, or so he says in his opening note. How could he die but still tell the tale? Though it seems impossible, in this story, it is not.
Strengths. Christopher and Allan got Hunter Brown right. He is 15, and he acts the part. He’s still into pranks and worried about bullies, but he’s noticing girls and concerned that he makes such bad first impressions; he’s cocky and at the same time uncertain. So many of the growing up things, but throw in the fact that Hunter isn’t even aware there is a spiritual life, and he’s the typical high school freshman guy.
Fittingly, this story is what I’ve termed adventure fantasy (because guys this age especially like adventure as a general rule). There are exciting exploits throughout, and Hunter is required to man-up. However, that doesn’t mean he is always to apply brute strength and courage or even cunning wit. Sometimes what he needs is humility. Sometimes he needs to be teachable. Sometimes he needs to be dependent.
Within the context of this fast-paced action, Christopher and Allan have embedded some great spiritual truth. Through the use of allegory, the authors connect various fantasy elements to reality. In so doing, they also tackle some of the deeper, knotty questions of our day. They address the evolution/creation issue, God’s sovereignty versus man’s free will, the problem of suffering. It’s an impressive and ambitious effort to deal with, not skirt, things that teens think about and want answers for, yet it is done naturally within the story, so I never had the sense that here were The Things the authors wanted to teach the reader.
Weaknesses. There are some “craft” or editing problems in the book. Speaker attribution and action tags have been mixed and some minor point of view shifts occur. For some authors these were distracting. I noted them, and would have liked to see them cleaned up. For me, once I acknowledged that this was going to be the way this story was told, I didn’t give it another thought.
The biggest problem from my perspective was that I read the book so fast, I found I forgot it quickly. I wish I knew what makes a story memorable. I can’t put my finger on it. Two months after reading it, I knew I liked the book, but I couldn’t tell you anything about the story or the characters, as wonderful as I think they are.
Recommendation. A must read for tweener boys, for any young adult fantasy lovers, and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys portal adventure fantasy.
This review originally appeared at A Christian Worldview of Fiction