Title: The Box and the Dragonfly
Author: Ted Sanders
When Horace wanders into the House of Answers, he can’t imagine the questions that visit will dredge up. For he finds himself in possession of a box with mysterious power, and also the focus of the sinister, not-quite-human Dr. Jericho. With the help of a girl with her own powerful dragonfly pendant, can they protect their talismans and themselves?
This is another one I didn’t finish. I tried. The concept was intriguing (although not quite what I had expected from the jacket description), and the writing was generally solid, so it took me a while to figure out why I was so unenthusiastic about reading it.
The biggest (and for me, fatal) flaw is the pacing. Something intriguing/exciting/dangerous happens, and then Horace goes home. Or he spends a chapter getting talked at with some details grudgingly doled out about his box or the overall situation. This is a hefty book for its age range, and it could’ve been cut in half (mostly by condensing and combining the talky bits). By the time I got to the part where Chloe insists on going back home before the next day, despite being warned very strongly against, I realized I didn’t care anymore. The tension and sense of danger had fallen flat so many times before that even knowing this one would blow up on them wasn’t enough to motivate me to keep going.
In a way, the story is structured very like its main character: logical, steady, organized, meticulously piecing bits together to build a bigger picture.
I also find it amusing that we’re talking about a box that can see the future and a pendant that allows its user to walk through solid objects, but many characters get very vocal about not calling it “magic.” Not to mention a quill pen and ink that changes based on who’s writing and a variety of other things that really, really look like what most of us would call magic. It just brings to mind the quote, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
And the plot also tries a little too hard to tell Horace to be himself and do what he wants. He’s twelve. Figuring out what you want is great, but right and wrong should probably factor in somewhere along the line too. Well, it’s not so much that there were defined actions that were wrong as much as Horace being treated as extraordinarily special by everyone when he does very little to validate that. Chloe would actually fit that better than he does, as her ability to walk through things effectively requires her to put herself in harm’s way if she’s using her power at all. Horace . . . spies on the future to let Chloe know if her reckless actions will doom her or not. What’s frustrating is that the adults keep clearly favoring Horace because his box is supposedly more powerful than her dragonfly, even after she proves hers isn’t a low-grade ability.
So overall, I think a few things would’ve helped this for me. One, cut out the requirement for Horace to go home to his normal family life every single night and let him have an adventure (or compress said adventure into a day or two so he could conceivably be gone that long without raising suspicions). Two, cut down and consolidate the multiple scenes where Horace is just sitting down and getting talked at. This would allow more space for Horace to actually do things. And third, stop having everyone treat Horace like he’s amazing (even Harry Potter had people who hated him). I rate this book Neutral.