Note: The Accidental Hero is also known as Jack Blank and the Imagine Nation. Both are by Matt Myklusch.
At first, when I heard this title, I was as other potential readers would be; slightly dismissive due to the seemingly childish moniker. Whether the title is the original Jack Blank and the Imagine Nation, or it is The Accidental Hero, the title seems to invite dismissal. By the time you’re into middle-grade fantasy, you’re a bit tired of books with the formulaic title: “[Main character’s name] and the [big glaringly obvious high point of the book].” When I heard of the book, I mentally shrugged and unenthusiastically told the reviewer I’d pencil it in. I thought it was a scrawny book with childish characters and no plot except what you might find in your average comic book.
I am happy to be the first to prove myself wrong. (I’d also be happy if I was the last, thank you very much.) Seriously, Myklusch: Get better titles. A guy can’t tell what’s what. My writing education would never have been complete if I hadn’t read this book.
Of course, I said almost the same thing when I reviewed a truly horrible book back in late March. I learned a lot from that book– on how not to write.
But let’s get to the review. Four out of five stars for pure awesomeness. One star subtracted for cliche elements. Summary:
All Jack Blank knows is his bleak, dreary life at St. Barnaby’s Home for the Hopeless, Abandoned, Forgotten, and Lost—an orphanage in the swampland of New Jersey. Covertly reading old comic books is Jack’s only solace. But his life changes forever when he meets an emissary from a secret country called the Imagine Nation, an astonishing place where all the fantastic and unbelievable things in the world originate. Including Jack.
Jack soon discovers that he has an amazing ability—one that could make him the savior of Imagine Nation and the world beyond…or the biggest threat they’ve ever faced.
Hmmm… Would you look at that! It’s the basic setup of orphan in a horrible orphanage, who suddenly comes into great expectations– sorry, I’m borrowing from the Masterpiece Theater summary of Dickens’ Great Expectations.
The elements are mostly cliche. How many books are there that lump robots, zombies, cyborgs, androids (not the phones), superheroes, conceited billionaires, ninjas, plasma rays, floating islands, alien invasions, and everything you’d expect from The Adventures of Heroic Weird Guy all in one? Not many good ones. Through half of this blog I’ve ranted on the unimaginative modern fiction world, and I was prepared to do it again when I read this book.
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There are a couple things in literature that get straight to me, making the book in question an instant win: originality, humor, bittersweet endings, and plot twists. Amazingly, especially considering the small rant above, this book had all four.
The plot was original enough, all considering. The humor was at a perfect level through the entire book. The ending was bittersweet without being morbid. (Only one person died from the good side– and yet it was bittersweet! How?) And the plot twists… It seemed as though every chapter had a plot twist. The twists helped the author keep from falling into common traps and pitfalls as he wrote.
When you spend months on end thinking up an amazing world, then start to write about it, what would you do? I’ll tell you what I’d do– I’d send my characters through every corner of that world, exploring cool concepts and things. Unfortunately, this moves the plot nowhere and bores the reader to no end. Myklusch got past this roadblock with flying colors (mostly blue). A plot twist sprang from nowhere, making the character not just a spectator to a spectacular world, but a catalyst for the plot, making a miniature antagonist spring from where there was only a conceited jerk. Unbelievable, huh? (That was sarcasm.)
Another plus was the pace. The pace was quite swift, and was kept that way through the entire book. The book is chunky, about 450 pages. I read it in one day. A slow book would not let me do that. Especially at the beginning, I learned a few things about pacing: if you decide to have an introduction/prologue, make it interesting and funny. (The author did.) And yet, just because you have that prologue in there doesn’t mean that the beginning must be slow. Just because it doesn’t start out with “Bullets flew past Jack’s head as he ducked down behind the large statue of the headmaster’s wife” doesn’t mean the beginning is slow. The author didn’t do that beginning. But he also didn’t do the beginning where it goes into a painfully detailed explanation of the school and why it was there in the first place, and why it was not a happy little place with overly perky caretakers in animal pajamas. (That sounds like a hospital.) Instead, it had a prologue, revealing the setup, then got straight into showing the inciting incident. As I said, I learned things from this book.
As you can see, I don’t have much bad to say about this book. I was altogether an enjoyable read. It might have appealed more to younger readers, as I’m sure the average eleven-year-old boy daydreams of finding lands of superheroes and ninjas like the one present in this book. Unfortunately, I wasn’t that young boy– I was daydreaming about rounding Cape Horn with Captain Vanderdecken on the Flying Dutchman. (Blame Brian Jacques.) In addition, I am a little bit older than eleven at the moment.
A word to the wise: Don’t read this and War and Peace back-to-back, or else you’ll confuse Natasha with a Robo-Zombie. You’ll see what I mean when you read it.
That means you should read it.