|I hate this cover, it's a tacky nightmare, although|
my one student loved it, because of the car.
All book cover images are taken from LibraryThing
The character of Alfred Kropp is relate-able to so many audiences. He's a big kid, not fat, just big. Which means he's also pretty clumsy, not always in control of his body. He describes himself as very average, with nothing really going for him. His father abandoned him at birth, his mother died of cancer, and he's gone through foster homes until his Uncle took him in. I think the part that worked best was the awkwardness of his size. Having been 5'8" and on the heavy side since I was in 6th grade, I really felt his pain and how he was bullied. Everyone assumes he'll be good at football, but he's not, as if his size determines who he should want to be in life.
When his Uncle, who is a sad-sack man just trying to get ahead in the world, enlists him to help steal this sword, Alfred resists. His Uncle then threatens to send him back to foster care, so Alfred decides to help, which is heartbreaking. He doesn't feel right about it the entire time, and his fears turn out to be true when his Uncle is double-crossed, then murdered in front of Alfred.
And this is just in the first 60 pages. We then find out the true meaning of the sword, and go on an adventure through Pennsylvania, Nova Scotia, France, and England. All while driving awesomely fast cars and battling thugs.
There was a good amount of violence in this book. The villains use guns, but our heroes use knives, swords, and bows and arrows, which means they have to get close to their targets, and the wounds tend to be worse. There is also descriptions of the use of medieval torture tactics used on our heroes. This being said, I don't feel that the violence was overdone, out of context, or unnecessary. In fact, the violence is viewed as horrifying and unnecessary, especially by Alfred.
The plot is enough to propel the book, with enough mystery to keep you interested in reading the sequels. My students will love the use of incredibly fast and expensive modes of transportation. I enjoyed the history lessons intertwined with the story.
Overall, I think this is a good book for students in Grade 7 and above, mostly because of the violence, although I have a grade 6 I'd let read it too.
Alfred Kropp has the worst luck. He's big (but not good at football), sometimes clumsy, and he doesn't say anything right (especially to girls). Then his guardian Uncle asks him to help steal a sword from his employer. It sounds like an easy million dollars to make, but now Alfred's luck has him running from murderous thugs, working with an ancient order of Knights, and fighting to save the world.
Rick Yancey intertwines history, mythology, fantasy, action, and adventure with a realistic, likable, and worthy protagonist to introduce this series. Students in grade 7 and above and fans of Alex Rider, Daniel X, Maximum Ride, and Young James Bond will appreciate the well-timed action and humor, as well as being able to handle the sometimes brutal violence and swordplay.