Witch and Wizard: A Cautionary Tale

witch and wizard coverHave you ever read a book that just grabbed you and never let you go, which you were a little embarrassed to admit you read because you’re an adult and you shouldn’t enjoy it as much as you do but you don’t care because it’s the most amazing book in the history of everything?

Well, sorry to burst your bubble, but Witch and Wizard isn’t it.

Written by James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet, this book is lazy.  From the world building to the dialogue to the descriptions to the characters, this book is the epitome of why James Patterson’s idea of making his name a brand and letting ghostwriters do the work is a very bad idea.

I’ve read some of James Patterson’s older works, from before (I think) he started taking credit for his ghostwriters’ work.  I loved the first three books in the Maximum Ride series, and I enjoyed his Lakehouse books even more (which idea, if you don’t know, he adapted to create Max and the Flock).  James Patterson can write.  Unfortunately, he’s moved past writing to “giving people the great opportunity to use his name to hit the bestseller lists.” (That’s not an exact quote, but a summary of several different things James Patterson has said in the past)  Patterson claims he reads each book before giving it his stamp of approval, but if he read this book I am disappointed that he approved it for publication.  And I’m disappointed that Little Brown (the publishers) didn’t tear Patterson a new one.  Maybe they have a contingency clause: “Because James Patterson keeps making us money, we will publish anything and everything with his name on it without offering any more than copyediting services.”  Even more telling is the fact that this is a multi-book series, all with different authors attached.  I’m almost interested enough to read the next book and see how the style changes.  Almost.  Actually, no, I’m not.

So, how is this book lazy? Let’s start with the world building:

This book is set in America, except it’s an America so different that it’s barely recognizable and they never call it such (although one person does wear a Navy Seals hat–or shirt.  I can’t remember which).  Supposedly, this organization called the New Order, or N.O. for short (I’m not kidding), has recently taken over the government by being elected into power–and then stripping all rights from the citizens.  How the main characters Whit and Wisty don’t know this is beyond me.  Their lives have supposedly been normal up to this point, and you’d think they’d (being 17 and 15 years old respectively) have a thing or two to say about this.  This NO has set up a few poorly-written rules meant to sound grand but which come off as grade-schoolerish, which the reader is informed of in the first page as a mock-bulletin announcement.

Apparently, there’s also an underworld and a shadowland, and in the space of a few months there’s also Freeland.  All of this is displayed in a not-helpful-at all map that also looks like it was designed by a third grader (actually, I’ve seen third graders who make amazing maps in comparison).  But none of that seems to matter because the kids who will rule the world far better than adults (there’s a prophecy about that, you know) can get in and out of Freeland as easy as pie, without any troubles.  Oh, and in the space of a month or two whole cities are bulldozed, streets are covered in a fine layer of dust (instead of, you know, crumbling and becoming riddled with pot holes), and corn grows high and mighty.

What does the NO want from its citizens?  No art, music, books, creativity, or magic.  And that’s about it.  And they’re ruled by The One Who Is The One, who is totally chock-full of magic and looks like a Voldemort wanna-be, but oh no! We don’t realize the One has magic until the end!  (Unless you exclude those bits where he appears and disappears wherever and whenever he wants, vaporizes children with a wave of his hand, and other things that I probably missed because everything about this book was so poorly written that I wanted to skim over everything)  And how does the NO enforce these things? By performing night raids where children are stolen from their homes and placed in a prison guarded by evil attack dogs, brandishing tazers and batons.  Like any good-hearted parent would just live in a neighborhood where this has been happening for a while, when you know, you know, you and your kids have magic.

Enough with the world building.  That took longer than I thought, and it’s not even the worst bits.

The characters:

They were utterly boring and unintelligent, down to the very last one.  I remember reading Maximum Ride and knowing at first read each member of the Flock’s name, what they looked like, their tics and habits and personalities, and I was told this in such a way that I didn’t realize I was being told.  And I loved each and every one of them, faults and all.  In this book?  Well, Wisty is an angry redhead (stereotype much?) who can’t control her magic.  And Whit is a hunk who used to be on the football team…I think… And the other characters?  Well, there’s one that’s turned into a weasel at one point, and I’m supposed to kind of care for him at the end.  And there’s another that betrays them, but I can’t even remember where they first met the guy or why they should be so irate.

Oh, and neither of them knew they had magic.  Even though at the end it states that their parents are Wiccans (although since Wisty and Whit don’t believe in witches and wizards at the beginning of the book, it’s obvious they didn’t teach their children anything).  Even though they’re so powerful that their power dwarfs any of the other magic users.  Even though Wisty’s so hot-tempered that she should have burst into flames long before the NO took over.

The story:

It could have been interesting.  And it could have been quirky and fun.  But it was not.  Characters came and went as plot movers and as nothing else.  It was like seeing lots of still images to say, “Look at these cool concepts!  I want to be as quirky and fun as A Series of Unfortunate Events or Leven Thumps or Percy Jackson and the Olympians!”  But it falls far too short.

The writing itself:

Ugh.  Ugh, ugh, ugh.  Let’s just say that this writer, whichever one had the bigger influence, doesn’t know the value of telling instead of showing.  Here’s one example: “‘You got your friends out!,’ the girl said, then hugged Celia, the way Half-lights [ghosts] hug.  Hard to describe.”

Yes, that’s right.  In order to move the story along quicker, I suppose, there was no attempt to describe what happens when two ghosts try to hug.  That’s a trick a gradeschooler still trying to hone their craft uses.  And that gradeschooler then gets their paper back with that last sentence circled in red with the phrase, “Describe it,” written off to the side.

So why is this a cautionary tale?  Because I used to be a James Patterson addict, a Mary Higgins Clark addict, a Dean Koontz addict, and a Terry Brooks addict.  I would read all their books, and they would all be wonderful, no matter what anyone else thought.  But I’ve noticed something: a name may be well-known, it may be a brand, even, but that doesn’t make it good.  Choose your books because they’re good and speak to you, but don’t feel obligated to be loyal to that author.  If a book’s writing isn’t gold, then it’s not.  There often comes a time when an author becomes so famous that they get lazy, or preachy, or turn to ghostwriters and over-used formulas without enough twists.  And you don’t have to read them, not one bit.

Unless you promised yourself you’d write a book blog.

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