Title: I am number four
Author: Pittacus Lore
Review: In 2010 I went through an odd phase whereby any movie being released based on a book I would read before it came out and sit there and judge it with intense scrutiny. Having seen the trailer for I Am Number Four I then rushing out to grab the book before the impending movie release date.
Normally I am not into alien battle type-novels, yet as I started reading I found myself intrigued by the whole set-up and writing style of the mysterious and illusive Pittacus Lore.
Meet John Smith. By all appearances he is the usual fifteen year old American kid, except for the fact he and his ‘father’ shift location every few months. John is certainly not his real name, but has to face up to reality – school bullies, hot girls and in fact any friends being unattainable with such a peripatetic lifestyle.
‘Dad’ stays at home, scanning the internet and all news sources, in order to protect the pair – for they are among the remaining dozen or so inhabitants of Lorien, living in hidden exile on Earth, but hunted by their enemies from yet another alien race. Can the fact they are permanently pursued grant them any peace – especially when ‘John’ is about to undergo some rather prominent alien-style puberty?
This is a surprising book for the publishers to decide to release in two formats – a teen edition, and an adult-styled volume. It certainly reads like a teen book to me, and I have to declare I would spread many a teen title around my adult friends before I recommended this. For the adult there are far too many daft illogicalities to the whole thing. The first person narration by ‘John’ is very strong, and compels us to the fore of the action, but why on earth is he writing it in the first place, if all aspects of his life are to remain secret on pain of racial extinction?!
Nine children and nine guardians escaped from Lorien while it was being attacked and the aliens took refuge on Earth, believing it was a safe haven. But the Mogadorians found them and followed them here. Now they are killing the Lorien’s one by one in order from nine to one to break the magical bond that unites them.
Setting the story on Earth makes it easy to relate to and as the book goes along we get a glimpse into Lorien and a description of the planet, often described as a utopia. The story is solid and for a first book in a series it does an outstanding job of incorporating an epic back-story while still keeping the current story moving along at a readable peace. This is one of the first books where I could not put it down in places.
The characters are remarkably human for a bunch of aliens. In particular John’s mentor Henri whose pain and loss for his home planet emanates from his character’s motives and his unwavering love and dedication to John, determined to see him evolve with his legacies (superpowers that evolve as the Lorien’s get older). John himself is the typical broody teenager type, falling in love with local all American-girl Sarah in a relationship that is an easy to relate to first love and teenage love affair. Sam Goode is an adorable sci-fi nerd and John’s best friend whose willingness to help John find his friends and fight the Mogadorians. While we are on the subject, the Mogadorians are the most evil, cunning and well versed evil aliens I have ever read in print. Their determination to eradicate that Lorien’s without any remorse or care is thrilling to read and you can sense just what a threat these evil aliens are.
Pittacus Lore is the fictional author of this book and his dedication and love for his invaded home planet is the perfect depiction in the first few chapters. The majority of the story is told through John Smith’s view and this allows us to really get inside his head and feel some empathy and love for this character and situation.
You can well ask why the evil alien race have come all this way and seem hellbent on killing off just a few escapees from Lorien, a planet they have left lifeless. The problem they face is a magical charm that has conspired to protect nine children, destined to receive burgeoning superpowers, so that they can only be killed in numerical order – hence the title. ‘Dad’ is a mentor type, an elder guide and guardian who will only have intelligence to save him – expect he isn’t a target at all, for some reason. And I’m still not sure if it has to be a magic sword to kill the Loric kids, or just a humungous troll.
The sci-fi featured here is of the derivative kind, with even the memories of Lorien being giften to ‘John’ through a crystal – fans of Superman will grimace at the unoriginality. Loric contact with Earth means they have inspired copious geniuses, special growths in human evolution, and probably the pyramids. Yawn.
But beyond a welter of awkward, silly and bland elements, comes the action adventure side of things. The weaving of tension and suspense for ‘John’ and co with real life is very strong. There is forever the pull to hide away, or carry on moving, and the almost social poverty ‘John’ faces as a result – especially as an alien, as well – is leaving us with a strong hero, and one different to the usual book along these lines. And however daft the fact of his narrative is, he can convey a slightly gory teen adventure very well. The human sides are very human, the action sides very kinetic and visual.
I still don’t know how an optional astronomy course can need classes on three days running, just as I have a lingering frown from a lot of this. It certainly remains a strong concept, of the orderly annihilation ‘John’ and his counterparts face, and has some strong genre aspects in among its been-there,-seen-that elements. But I don’t feel the book lives up to the initial premise, and by the end I was certainly a lot less eager for the rest of the series (this will be a set of SIX by the end of things), and the imminent blockbuster film, than I was when hitting the beginning of this volume.
I Am Number Four breaks new ground in fantasy/alien/sci-fi fiction and while aimed at a young adult audience, all ages will find something here. The story is gripping and addictive and with enchanting characters that evoke empathy and understanding it is hard not to fall in love with this universe.
Buy it here: