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*The Eyes of a King: The Last Descendants #1* by Catherine Banner- young adult book review
The Eyes of a King: The Last Descendants #1
by Catherine Banner
Grades 7+ 448 pages Random House May 2008 Hardcover    

Fifteen-year-old Leo North's life in Malonia is very small. He lives with his ailing grandmother and his younger brother, Stirling; his parents are gone, possibly dead, considered traitors to King Lucien. His days consist of attending military school, doing chores, and trying to avoid the church services his brother and grandmother love.

His only pleasures are a hidden copy of The Golden Reign, the banned book written by his long-lost father, and Maria, the beautiful young woman in the upstairs apartment. Occasionally he and Stirling will escape Grandmother's watchful eye and take walks, far from the soldiers and the city, to the grave where their grandfather might be buried. On those days, Leo tells his brother stories of the olden days - stories he remembers their father telling him - about good King Cassius, his beautiful queen, and the baby prince who would one day rule the land.

Roaming the city streets one night, Leo finds another book, unusual in a land where most texts have been destroyed. When he examines the book, he finds the pages blank. Feeling a strange compulsion to keep the mysterious volume, he brings it back to his apartment and hides it away from sight. The next time he opens it, words appear, and as he continues to read, more of the story is revealed.

He shares the story with his brother, and the two boys begin to suspect that the story might answer questions about their own family and about Ryan, the murdered prince of Malonia. As the story progresses, the boys become more and more convinced that Aldebaran, their grandfather, and Ryan, the rightful prince, are not truly dead but alive, exiled in another land.

Soon after discovering the magical book, Leo's life starts to spiral out of control. Abuse from one of his school instructors and the sudden illness of his beloved brother push Leo to the edge, and he experiences a breakdown. The country in the grips of a revolution and Leo is ready to take his own life, when suddenly one of the characters from the book appears before him. As his life hangs in the balance, Leo must decide to give up or go on, and his decision will impact the entire country of Malonia.

The Eyes of a King is an ambitious novel, the first in a planned trilogy by young British author Catherine Banner. Banner made headlines when her novel was published and it was revealed that she began writing when she was only 14 years old. Nineteen at the time of its publication, many in the press have dubbed her "the next J.K. Rowling." In her first novel, Banner does not quite live up to the hype. Using the device of an older Leo writing his memoirs for his grandfather, Banner arranges the book into three separate narratives: Leo the writer, speaking in first person; Leo the child, whose story is told in third person; and the writing that appears in Leo's book, which jumps around from character to character.

Each narrative is printed in its own font to help the reader identify when the stories switch, but the movement from narrative to narrative keeps the reader from becoming fully immersed in any one story. The characters remain distant instead of becoming intimate friends. Banner's prose often seems labored, using many words when just a few would do. Again, this slows down the progress of the novel, keeping readers from losing themselves in the story.

The Eyes of a King premise is promising but lacking in its execution. Much is made about the young prince having "the eyes of a king," and the reader is led to believe that will have great importance to the story. That promise is never brought to fruition. It will be interesting to read the next novels in the series to see if this is an author who will grow in her writing with time. She certainly has the potential to do great things, and I hope she lives up to that in the years to come.
Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

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