Candle Man, Book One: The Society of Unrelenting Vigilance by Glenn Dakin
Publication: EgmontUSA (September 22, 2009), ARC Paperback, 300pp / ISBN 1606840150 (hardback)
Genre: Action, Mystery, Middle Grade
Find @ Amazon or IndieBound
Challenges: Countdown 2010 (2009 #5)
Read: October 2009
Source: ARC from the publisher
First off, I think I should mention that right before I read this book I had just finished Leviathan, and any book that comes after Leviathan has a tough act to follow. So I was kinda expecting not to feel overwhelmed with adoration for Candle Man, and that turned out to be true. However, if I had gone into reading Candle Man any other time– i.e. not right after reading the awesomeness that was Leviathan, then I’m pretty sure I would have had a stronger, more positive reaction to it.
At the moment I’m just feeling sort of ambivalent. Is it a bad book? No, not by any means. But is it as good as Leviathan? Well, no. And I know it’s not fair to really compare the two (Scott Westerfeld is a veteran book-writer, and this is Glenn Dakin’s first book; Leviathan is YA/teen and Candle Man is middle grade, etc), so I’ll try not to take Leviathan into account for this review. Unfortunately my prejudices colored my reading a bit, but I’m going to try to even things out a bit if I can here. Okay?
Okay. Here we go–
Summary from Amazon:
Murder, mystery, and adventure aren’t your typical birthday presents . . .
But for Theo, anything that breaks up his ordinary routine is the perfect gift.
A mysterious “illness” and Theo’s guardians force him into a life indoors, where gloves must be worn and daily medical treatments are the norm. When Theo discovers a suspicious package on his birthday, one person from the past will unlock the secret behind Theo’s “illness” and change his life forever
Candle Man starts off wonderfully, with some intrigue and mystery. I find the whole idea of a “Candle Man” fascinating. It kind of sounds like a 1940’s pulp hero, doesn’t it? And Theo is so messed up he makes a really interesting character: he only eats bland foods, he doesn’t know much about the world outside his home, he thinks happiness is dangerous, and he’s deathly afraid of the number three (and multiples of). He’s neurotic, almost, and I like neurotic characters. They make for good heroes, a lot of times.
And though, of course, Theo starts to work through his issues during the course of the book, I hope he retains enough of them to keep him slightly off-kilter. It makes the entire book funnier and, well, more interesting, with a weird protagonist like Theo.
I also liked how there were these weird fantasy-ish creatures running around with modern day technology, a little like Stoneheart? For instance, there were these little imp-like things called smoglodytes who can only exist in smog, which is a very modern sort of monster, I think. They added a nice dimension to the story that I liked. And there were also these things called garghouls (like gargoyles but…ghoulish?), and from the description they sounded an awful lot like the gargoyles from, uh, Gargoyles.
That said, there were a few things that started to annoy me the longer I read it. There are a lot of redundant dialogue tags: “the astonished man exclaimed,” “Theo wondered nervously,” etc. I didn’t notice until about halfway through, but when I did notice I couldn’t stop noticing. Also, though I liked Chloe, the dashing heroine and Theo’s probable love interest, I think too many things about her were revealed too early, and that made things a bit muddled. Pretty early on, for instance, we learn that not only is she a member of the Society of Unrelenting Vigilance but she’s also some sort of undercover cop…thing. What? That doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense, and it was never really explained.
A few other things also seemed to just appear out of nowhere, and it kept making me wonder if I had missed something. At the end, for instance– and I don’t think this is a spoiler– Theo’s cheek is broken. But when did it happen? There’s no explanation, just Theo suddenly wearing a fracture mask.
At this point I couldn’t help wondering if I was analyzing things too much, and if I was just so used to things being explained in such detail because of the last few books I read. Was I suppose to intuit the connection between an event and a consequence? And did I really need everything spelled out for me, or am I too hung up on details? I dunno. I think I almost needed more details, because I kept getting lost and wondering what things looked like.
Mr Dakin has written scripts for several kids shows, including Shaun the Sheep, and you can see that influence in his books. This would make a great BBC kids show for sure: it’s exciting and adventuresome and really interesting characters, and I think the rest of the series can only get better. Hopefully.
Candle Man is being marketed as a kind of steampunk-tinted story, but I don’t really see any connection to steampunk in it. It’s set in modern times, with modern technology, and if anything it’s urban fantasy– not steampunk. So if you’re looking for steampunk, uh. It’s not here. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a quirky MG urban fantasy, this is it.