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Cook: Fantasy story borrows from too many others
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‘Witch and Wizard'

By: James Patterson
Price: $17.99
Rating: Three ot of five bookmarks

This week's book review started with a simple curiosity, as do most of my selections for Off the Shelves critiques.

This particular curiosity came while I was working during the holiday season. I work at a book store — makes sense for a book reviewer, right? — so I got a good idea about which authors were popular this year.

Naturally I saw more than my fair share of Stephanie Meyer vampire devotees and more than enough Nicholas Sparks admirers (refer to my review of "The Last Song" if you want to know how I feel about him).

The one author, however, that I found people buying by the cartload this season was James Patterson. Our bookstore even had a whole section of shelves assigned to featuring the "Best of James Patterson."

Not being familiar with him, I decided to discover what made this author so popular. I boldly braved his latest teen fantasy novel, which he co-wrote with Gabrielle Charbonnet. "Witch and Wizard" is the first book in what is to be a series, following the trials of Whitford (Whit) and Wisteria (Wisty) Allgood, a brother-sister duo of sorcerers. The book does not delve too much into how or why Whit and Wisty have magical powers, but with names like that, how could they not?

As for the plot, imagine if Hogwarts, of Harry Potter fame, instead of being a child wizardry school was a child wizardry prison and concentration camp. Then sprinkle in hints of Percy Jackson, "Lord of the Rings" and any other random fantasy novel with a following, and you pretty much have "Witch and Wizard." Granted, there is a lack of any magical creatures, unless you count a dog that can cross over into a spirit world.

What we do get is the obligatory prophecy that these two supernatural children will overthrow the league of unscrupulous, hateful adults of the New Order (abbreviated as NO, of course) led by the enigmatic One Who Shall Not be Named — I mean, the One who is the One.

It is not that the novel is completely unoriginal, but not only does it lift from more well-known young adult fantasy adventures, the novel bluntly makes references to them in a less than tongue-in-cheek manner.

Whit, obviously trying to live up to his name, remarks to one of the antagonists, "What do you think this is, Gary Blotter and the Guild of Rejects?" This kind of pop culture reference is mildly funny once, but it happens constantly throughout this novel, which only reminds the reader of how many novels Patterson is plagiarizing.

One thing I do have to say about the book is that it did hold my attention. I read the whole 300 page book in one sitting, which meant there was enough action and drive to keep me interested.

I also kept reading, however, in the hopes that after all the mean-spiritedness this book had to give, that maybe we'd see the kindhearted nature of our heroes triumph and even it all out. Unfortunately, our heroes are almost as consistently callous as their adversaries. As much as I wanted the villains to be punished, something about our heroine Wisty delighting in how she can set buildings and even people on fire was a bit unsettling.

Even though I know I cannot judge an author's talent by one book - even the greatest writers have to have a work considered the weakest of their repertoire - "Witch and Wizard" has not exactly inspired me to become a James Patterson fan.

I'm sure, however, to those of you who already consider him a favorite, his latest novel will be entertaining even if it's not innovative.

Alison Reeger Cook is a Gainesville resident whose Off the Shelves book review runs every other week in Sunday Life. Know of a good book to review? E-mail her to tell her about it.