Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Secret of Ka

Christopher Pike

The first brand new novel from Christopher Pike in years, The Secret of Ka, is a departure from what most people think of when thinking of Pike.  It's much more innocent and more of a straight fantasy than his usual horror/slasher/paranormal books.  But that's not a bad thing.  In fact, I quite enjoyed this book.  It caught me off-guard a bit, and as such, took a little longer for me to get into, but once I was invested in the story, I tore through the rest of the book.  The Secret of Ka reads a bit younger than most young adult novels out there.  I'd almost recommend it for an advanced middle grade audience, but an early teen reader is probably ideal.  It's very chaste - even a kiss is a big deal, which is certainly different from the drugs and sex prevalent in many of his books.  But I liked that innocence.  It worked for this book especially since it takes place in Istanbul, which the protagonist, Sara, learns is very different from America.  The culture differences are part of what really work in this story, particularly when it comes to Sara's involvement with Amesh, a boy she has a crush on who's missing one of his hands.  In Turkey, women are seen as inferior to men (nevermind how non-Muslims are perceived), and the feisty nature in Sara's personality gets her into trouble often, but also puts a wall up between her and Amesh, especially when it becomes clear that she has more control in certain situations.  But beyond these tensions in the novel, the mythology that Pike weaves into the story, featuring djinn and flying carpets, are inspired, and are not the traditional genie nonsense seen elsewhere.  The mythology is obviously thoughtfully researched, if references to the Koran are any indication, and Pike has created some really interesting ideas when it comes to djinn possession and what their powers mean, and how they work.  Djinn are trixsters, and will stop at nothing to get their third wish used, which turns the tables on the wisher, and will often interpret wishes in ways that will cause the wisher to have to use another wish to fix.  One of the most suspenseful aspects of this book is the will between djinn and master.  They have to tread carefully with one another, thoughtfully arranging their words, carefully keeping one step ahead of each other, if they wish to be triumphant.  Whenever there is a confrontation between a djinn and a human, I'm always on the edge of my seat as the conversation plays out.  And once readers get past that first hundred pages that sets up the setting in Istanbul and introduces the key players of the book, the rest of the fantasy rushes along, coming to a head in a very satisfying way.  I'm very impressed with the mythology of this book and the subtle complexities of characters who come from very different worlds.  This is a riveting, exciting work of fiction.

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