I’m weirdly having a blast re-reading books from my childhood lately, and this week it was Tony Abbott’s Journey to the Volcano Palace, the second in his The Secrets of Droon series. It’s been an incredibly long time since I read these books and returning to them now has been an interesting experience. I’ll be honest, I didn’t remember a single thing about them other than that a princess was involved and there was some evil guy who did…evil things…before I reread these books. While I can say with certainty that there are certain points I do recall, these books didn’t quite stick with me as I grew up.
That’s probably because they’re incredibly underdeveloped. Whereas I was able to fall in love with novels like Eragon and The Hunger Games, books like this one were quick reads I eventually forgot nearly everything about. And I don’t really consider this a bad thing per se. It’s really good for kids to have engaging and fast reads to enjoy when they’re young. But I also won’t be singing many praises for these books either.
Their merit lies solely in their ability to increase readership.
I will always appreciate these books for the fact that they’re easy to read, enjoyable adventure stories that will likely foster a love of reading in young children. They are especially useful, I think, in that they provide struggling readers with an opportunity to learn to love reading. Since my expertise as an adult is in teaching struggling readers, I’m genuinely thrilled to realize how useful these books can be in that regard.
I nearly bought the first book for one of my students.
That said, the development and plot still suck.
I’ll give Abbot this, he doesn’t have a lot of time to set up the characters, their personalities, and give them real or genuine development. The book is less than a hundred pages long. There likely wouldn’t be much of a plot at all if he did that. But again, this book does feel like one of those 30-minute children’s shows that focuses on all the action and nothing else.
Eric still has no personality. Julie is…smart, I guess? Neal is the single character who actually has a personality, but it’s just so that he can be the comic relief. Weirdly enough, these characters keep reminding me of undeveloped versions of Harry, Hermione, and Ron. And Keeah’s just a strong princess, but ultimately she has less personality in this one than she did in the first novel.
The plot is very much a continuation off the first book, or episode, and really just involves figuring out how to get the magical stone that was stolen back from the evil villain.
And that’s it.
There’s really not a whole lot of substance to this book at all. In many ways, it feels as though the purpose of book two was to introduce readers to a few more things about the world–namely the pillow creatures, Sparr’s secret, and this weird mermaid hidden away in his palace–and the plot was just thrown in because, well, books need a plot.
And since the remaining problem from book one is resolved, it’s also time to introduce a new problem to solve in book three.
The magic in this story just exists and does weird things, which frankly is a massive cop-out on the author’s part to prevent him from having to do any actual writing work. And then, in a similar vein to the first novel, Eric and his friends return to his world–and the for some reason still messy basement–with the promise that the magic will tell them when to return once again. For some reason, the stairs that will bring them home appear right where Keeah needs to go, so everything gets tied up quite nicely.
So, not great. But I still appreciate it.