In this fantastical thriller, five young teens tapped as models for theme park "guides" find themselves pitted against Disney villains and witches that threaten both the future of Walt Disney World and the stability of the world outside its walls.
Using a cutting-edge technology called DHI—which stands for both Disney Host Interactive and Daylight Hologram Imaging—Finn Whitman, an Orlando teen, and four other kids are transformed into hologram projections that guide guests through the park.
The new technology turns out, however, to have unexpected effects that are both thrilling and scary. Soon Finn finds himself transported in his DHI form into the Magic Kingdom at night. Is it real? Is he dreaming?
Finn's confusion only increases when he encounters Wayne, an elderly Imagineer who tells him that the park is in grave danger. Led by the scheming witch Maleficent, a mysterious group of characters called the Overtakers is plotting to destroy Disney's beloved realm, and maybe more.
This gripping high-tech tale will thrill every kid who has ever dreamed of sneaking into Walt Disney World after hours, and wondered what happens at night, when the park is closed.
I thought I was going to fall in love with this. Maybe that was part of the problem.
It has all the elements of stories I love: it's a middle grade adventure series, like the Magisterium and Percy Jackson. It's about Disney World, and I love Disney World. In fact, I bought the entire Kingdom Keepers series at the Miami Book Fair a few years ago. (To put a little perspective on this: each book was $2, so I felt it was a worthwhile splurge.)
Unfortunately, this came up lacking for me.
And I tried. I tried so hard. I knew early on that I wasn't feeling it, but I pushed myself past my usual 100 page stay-or-go mark and read all the way through the end. But there were a few things that made this crash and burn for me, and looking at other reviews, I know that I'm not alone:
1. The characters -- The 5 DHIs seemed underdeveloped. This is a good thing for me to note as I head into NaNoWriMo. After 300+ pages, I don't feel like I really know any of these kids. Finn is the closest. But the others just got a paragraph introduction to them in the beginning of the book, and that's all the distinguishing characteristics we got. Except for Charlene. I think I was rubbed the wrong way with her because Wayne explained that all the DHIs were specifically picked for different reasons. Charlene's character card said she was picked for her good looks and athleticism. Good looks first. I mean, I guess that's understandable, being that it's show business, but something rubbed me the wrong way about a kid's book (middle grade book, I mean) being like, "This girl got to be special because she's pretty." Maybe if her character had been really cool, I could have let that go. But all she did in this book was whine and protest. I read a spoiler for what becomes of her in the spin-off series, and all I can say is that I hope she grows as a character in the other books, and doesn't just get this new thing because of her "good looks." Okay, enough about that.
2. The villains -- Very loosely explained. I kind of didn't understand who they are and how they work. And what they're trying to do. Maybe this is explained more in subsequent books. But in this book all I really saw was a fight with some pirates and then Maleficent turning things cold. Why was she scary? What was her end game? Maybe an Overtaker back story could have been helpful.
3. Loose threads -- There were a few story lines/instances that were presented and then never touched again. All of a sudden, it would be the next chapter and that was that. I'd think, "How was this resolved?" or "What was the point of this?" Perhaps some things got cut in the editing process?
4. Audio narrator -- I love audiobooks, and have been lucky to listen to some great narrators. Unfortunately, this was not one of them. I think part of the reason I disliked Charlene was because she was read with a snobbish voice. Willa was read with a voice like a man. Finn was read in a whiny tone. It was hard to enjoy these characters without enjoying their voices.
5. Lack of magic -- Disney World is one of my most favorite places, "the most magical place on Earth." Somehow, I never felt the specialness, the magic of the setting. And there was such great potential to do so.
I'm not upset that I took a chance on this story. I really do love the concept, and it looks like the subsequent books in the series visit the other parks, besides just the Magic Kingdom, where this one took place. It is a MG story and perhaps I am going too deep with it. At the end of the day, I can see how it's a fun, light, entertaining story.