In Review: Mutation

Reading the final book in a trilogy had me at a severe disadvantage, but the characters were fun and the dino action entertaining.

Mutation by Roland Smith

Published by Scholastic Press, October 2014. Hardcover of 333 pages. Also available as an ebook. Intended for grades 3 – 7, ages 8 – 12.

NOTE: I read an advanced copy, so any aspect of the book may have changed by publication.

The cover: Something that looks like a lion is straining to get through the bars that keep it contained. The animal’s left eye forms the letter O in the book’s title at the top. The author’s name is at the bottom preceded by “The thrilling conclusion to the Cryptid Hunters by.” This image designed and executed by Phil Falco is a definite eye catcher and the threat of that creature breaking loose has me eager to see what this book’s story is all about. Overall grade: A+

The premise: From the inside jacket cover, “Marty O’Hara and his friends Luther Smyth and Dylan Hickock have managed to rescue Marty’s cousin, Grace, from the clutches of her grandfather, the nefarious pseudo-naturalist Noah Blackwood. Now their most dangerous mission lies ahead of them. Marty’s parents have been missing in Brazil for months, and their trail has all but run cold. With time running out, Marty, Grace, and the Cryptos Island crew race down to Brazil to the jaguar preserve run by Dr. Robert Lansa and his son, Jake. But even the preserve isn’t safe. When their friends begin disappearing one by one, Marty and Grace head into the rain forest in pursuit, where they discover that Noah Blackwood has twisted the natural order of things beyond their wildest, most terrifying dreams.” Having never read the previous two books in this trilogy, Tentacles and Chupacabra, this summary has a lot of names for me to digest. I’m concerned about being able to follow the plot with so many characters, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed. Overall grade: B-

The characters: There are a lot of characters to keep track of. I’m sure if I had read the previous two novels, this wouldn’t be an issue, by as a first time reader, I felt like I was drowning. The easiest way for me to keep track of the players was to assign them to Jonny Quest characters. Marty O’Hara is a thirteen year old who has the bulk of the action for the course of the novel, much like Johnny. He is very intelligent, but not a super genius. He loves to tell Grace Wolfe little factoids that were a little annoying as I felt like the author was stepping forward and providing information, rather than the character. Grace is also thirteen and she’s ready for action as much as Marty is. She keeps him in line as much as he keeps her in line. They were a good pair. Dr. Travis Wolfe is like the Dr. Quest of the book, but he’s an expert in animals, specifically animals that shouldn’t exist, such as the Chupacabra or dinosaurs. He had his leg bitten off in an earlier book and now has a highly advanced mechanical leg, though it does not give him super abilities. His Race Bannon is Dr. Ted Bronson. Ted was a fun character, keeping the kids in line while doing his best to keep the kids safe, but doing what he’s told by Wolfe. The villain of the book is Dr. Noah Blackwood, who reveals his complete origin in the final quarter of this book. He’s spoken of often but not seen until the end and that made him a powerful enemy. His minions are doing his bidding until it’s time for him to reveal himself. I really enjoyed him and he would make a good foe for James Bond. There are also two dinosaur “hatchlings” in this book. They’ve been rescued from Blackwood in the previous novel and our heroes have to figure out what to do with them. There’s a nice twist with them, and their addition was a constant reminder of the cryptid nature of this book. Overall grade: B+

The settings: The jungles of Brazil are the primary settings. There’s adventure to be found on the Amazon, with a nice boat race, but most of the novel is walking, running, or zipping through the foliage. It’s a generic setting, and I completely believed Smith’s description of it, but it got tiresome after some several chapters. Thankfully, there is a surprise setting in the end that was highly enjoyable and had me wishing more time could have been spent there. Overall grade: B+

The action: Because of all the characters being split up, the action is fairly stop and go. As one group gets to momentary safety, the others then go off into peril. It’s not until the characters are forced to leave their camp does the action become steady, but that’s halfway through the book. There’s only two “mutations” in the book, and they don’t do anything until the end, and even then one of them has no action “on camera.” This was very disappointing. Overall grade: C

The conclusion: It’s really quick, and one of the villains doesn’t get his comeuppance in front of the heroes–it’s discussed after the fact. Everything is wrapped up neat and tidy, but so quickly, I had to go back and reread a chapter to be sure I hadn’t missed something. Overall grade: B-

The final line: Reading the final book in a trilogy had me at a severe disadvantage, but the characters were fun and the dino action entertaining. Overall grade: B-

 

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer’s Guide for several years with “It’s Bound to Happen!”, he reviewed comics for TrekWeb, and he currently reviews Trek comics at TrekCore. He’s taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for two years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.

 

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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