For the next few weeks, I will be re-reading childhood books that were an essential part of my childhood. Given the fact that my reading experience has expanded significantly over the years and my writing expertise somewhat improved, I thought I might take the time to go back over the books that helped to form my literary journey and give my current and honest opinion about them. For the first week of this project, I will be re-reading the Kingdom Keepers series.
For many people, J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books changed and formed their childhood forever. For me, this is how I viewed the Kingdom Keepers series, especially considering I was a member of the Kingdom Keepers Insider website where I was able to further flex my writing skills by writing fan fiction.
The first book of the series, Disney After Dark, was written by Ridley Pearson and published by Disney/Hyperion in 2005. The series was published before the current rise of YA/tween fiction, making it, alongside reads like the Percy Jackson series, Harry Potter, and other such reads somewhat interesting. Series targeted at an audience who was growing up quickly became trendy around this period and Kingdom Keepers was certainly not the only one to jump on the bandwagon.
Let’s take a look at the first series, not including The Return, a sequel series following the characters as they move into college.
#1 – Disney After Dark – The book opens with the main character of the series, Lawrence “Finn” Finnegan Whitman, opening his eyes to see the moon shining above him and the rest of Main Street, Disneyworld. From this opening we jump into an intriguing conversation with an old Imagineer named Wayne Kresky. Finn is given the assignment to find the rest of the kids (Terrence Maybeck, Dell Philby, Isabella “Willa” Angelo, and Charlene Turner) who were hired to be DHIs – Digital Hologram Imaging or Disney Host Interactive. With the help of a mysterious girl from school named Amanda, Finn sets off on a mission to unite his team. But even with a team assembled, the newly formed “Kingdom Keepers” are up against some of the most dangerous enemies known to the Magic Kingdom and even perhaps the world. The Disney villains – “Overtakers” as they call themselves – are ready to do anything to break free of the Magic Kingdom, including destroying Finn and his friends.
This is a pretty okay read, going back over it. On my very first reading years and years ago, I was absolutely enthralled by the story and fell head-over-heels in love with the characters. However, going back over it I noticed right away that the book is riddled with inconsistencies and the character descriptions are serviceable at best. It is a disappointment, because there are such great moments and a strong plot that are great that more than make up for it. Points go to Ridley Pearson for setting up such an engaging world that feels both familiar and entirely new.
#2 – Disney at Dawn – Unlike the first book, the second in the series starts off explosively with a daring ride down a zip-line in a madcap effort to go after the newly escaped Maleficent. Shortly thereafter, Finn and his friends discover that one of their friends, Jess the magically gifted sister of Amanda, has been kidnapped. The bulk of the book is spent on the hunt to find where Jess has been whisked off to and what the grand master plan of the evil Overtakers is. Their search will lead them to Expedition Everest where only the most evil of Disney’s creations lie, waiting to be unleashed by Maleficent.
This book is about the same quality as the first and on that account there’s not much more I can say about it. Like the first, it has several inconsistencies, a problem that would not have been remedied until Ridley Pearson hired Brooke Muschot as an intern to check for such mistakes. Something interesting to note about this book: it is clear that he never intended for this to be a series. There is a distinctive air of finality at the end of the first book that the second does not have, given the fact that this book has a cliffhanger finale.
#3 – Disney in Shadow – Picking up from the last book, Finn and his friends must discover the whereabouts of their mentor Wayne Kresky while seemingly avoiding the persistent woman who continues to tail them. Has he been kidnapped? Where has he gone? And what do the Overtakers want with him? With several of the Disney villains still on the loose, Finn and friends must discover where Wayne, their biggest ally, is before it’s too late.
Mysteries and future-spotting visions abound in this chapter of the series, with the seeds for future romantic drama being planted here. The families of the Kingdom Keepers are brought into the spotlight much more, Finn’s mother taking a much more prominent role as she helps to solve some of the featured puzzles. EPCOT and Hollywood Studios take a starring role as the locale for this part of the series.
I actually think this is my favorite book of the series. It’s filled with humorous moments, more puzzles than ever, both of my favorite parks from the Disneyworld resort, and great character interaction. There is even some pretty good character development to this part of the series. I think of book number three as the end of a certain era in the Kingdom Keepers series and as an “era”, I really think this is the best one of the series.
#4 – Power Play – Finn Whitman and friends have found Wayne, but life is still not easy for the Kingdom Keepers. The Overtakers seem to be amassing an army made up kids from their own schools and a larger more sinister plan seems to be afoot. With the arrest of a close ally and a curse placed on the sisters Jess and Amanda, the Kingdom Keepers are up once more up against a force that seems to threaten the magic of the parks that they love and know.
The middle point of the series, Power Play was not afraid to take Kingdom Keepers into the area of fiction that could be classified as teen. Romantic tension abounds in this book, perhaps a bit unexpectedly. The plot is easy enough to follow, though the climax is rather confusing and unexpected. Most of what made this read different from the last was the introduction of Disney characters as a force for good, the first mention of the puzzle concerning the whereabouts of Mickey Mouse, and the lead-in to the second half of the series.
I like this part of the series and the humor is amped up. Seeing characters try and fail to be charming with those they are attracted to is pretty funny for characters that were already awkward to begin with. However, on the flipside, much of the romantic relationships come out of nowhere and can even hinder the story. All in all, a pretty good read.
# 5 – Shell Game – This one went even further into YA territory with its mature relationships, high-action, and cliffhanger ending. Following the adventures of the five DHIs as they move to being a part of the Disney cruise line, this part of the series introduces new villain, Tia Dalma, and her attempt to bring the ultimate baddie Chernabog to life. All hands are required on deck for this one, especially given the bumpy nature of the Kingdom Keepers dynamic and the loss of Mrs. Whitman’s support due to Overtaker magic. The cliffhanger ending begs for readers to continue on to book number six.
This book was…interesting. I don’t know of a more polite way to put it. I disliked everything Ridley Pearson did with the characters and even relationships, a fact that did not change from my very first reading to the most recent one. The plot and action is actually rather entertaining, with the villain character of Tia Dalma being chilling. My biggest complaint is really about the characters, but that seems somewhat essential to me, given the fact that they carry the weight of the series.
#6 – Dark Passage – This book picks up right off from where the last one left off with Finn and Willa as they fall to a perilous fate in the dark ocean below. Up above, Cruella’s pet hyenas are still in hot pursuit of their team of friends, including newest member of the team Storey Ming. This book is full of fateful encounters and several new characters, like Mattie, a fellow Fairlie to Amanda and Jess. Dillard, Finn’s childhood friend, returns in a big way that packs a gut-punch. The story basically follows Tia Dalma as she attempts to continue her attempt to raise Chernabog from the dead and the Keepers’ attempt to stop the Overtakers, along with a little help from the Imagineer team sent in to help.
Romance is ridiculously primary in the fifth and sixth books, almost taking as much precedence as the main plot. Also, there are a lot of sacrifices in this book, but with characters that have not done enough to deserve it. Finn’s mother, who was an on-off character of limited importance, is somehow turned to the dark side in these two books and this is supposed to be a huge plot point that gets mitigated to being rather secondary to the previous points mentioned. All in all, I would have been pretty okay with the series ending here, despite the fact that several characters seem lacking for the last three books and the plots became less sensible.
#7 – The Insider – This book was the most interesting for massive Kingdom Keepers fans like me, because it gave us the chance to participate by writing a short paragraph or two to hopefully get our entry put into the final book. It was super exciting to be returning to this world of Disney mayhem, especially considering this final book takes the Keepers to Disneyland. The book picks up a long three years later after the events of the sixth book. The Keepers are graduating, but the Overtakers have finally reared their ugly head. This adventure will take them to Disneyland, California Adventure, Club 33, and treacherous Burbank. Fan favorite characters like Wayne Kresky and even real-life intern Brooke Muschot make an appearance with a *sniff, sniff* less than happy ending for all. The Keepers must find the elusive Mickey Mouse and reunite order to the original Happiest Place on Earth if they are to ever restore balance to the parks once and for all.
Okay. I’ll admit. As much as I dislike the latter half of the series, the seventh book pulled out all the stops and was nothing like expected. I entered for every single one of the contests, desperately hoping against all hopes that I could possibly get a piece of my writing in. Though I didn’t, it was an eye-opening experience that made me appreciate the final product that much more.
Final Thoughts: Overall? The Kingdom Keepers series is an interesting one, because it’s hard to view it as a whole when it’s clear Ridley Pearson never meant it to be. There was never a clear plan for the entire series, something that is evident from even a cursory read of the books. Either way, it’s an enjoyable series, especially for Disney fans who want more than the cheerful Small World version of the parks (speaking of which, those dolls are evil…)
3/5 stars. Good, but not without flaws.
Chime Time! Have you read the series and if so, what do you think?