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Current AQATDR word count: 173K. Yes, that's 13,000 words in three days. NaNoWriMo? Pfft!

Hopefully it will not be NaNoWriMo quality. Time to take a break.

Review: James Potter and the Hall of Elders' Crossing

So, most of you have probably heard of the James Potter series by G. Norman Lippert. I must admit that I'm impressed by Lippert's ability to publicize his fan fiction novels without ever posting anything on any fan fiction archive. Instead, he built his own website, complete with animated trailers, and created such anticipation that a lot of Harry Potter fans believed that it was a Rowling-authorized continuation of the series. He's got a Facebook page and everything.

Lippert is a computer animator, which explains his ability to create a snazzy website. The self-promotion is apparently aimed at launching his career as a professional writer; he's got several books of original fiction that he's self-published on Lulu. I'm guessing that he's hoping to land an actual book contract.

So, being a Next Generation fan myself, I read James Potter and the Hall of Elders' Crossing. This is the first book in what is now a trilogy. The second book is James Potter and the Curse of the Gatekeeper, and Lippert is posting chapters for book three, James Potter and the Vault of Destinies now.

This is a series about James Potter, Harry's son. I'm only going to review the first book below, as I've just started reading book two.

Note: I'm going to try to avoid spoiling too much, so if you have read the book and want to comment on my review, please likewise avoid posting spoilers.

This book is about James's first year at Hogwarts. It is, for the most part, "canon compliant" in the same way that Hogwarts Houses Divided is canon compliant; Lippert takes quite a few liberties, but he doesn't seriously change the history or the world that we know from the books.

Aside from James, Harry, and a few teachers (and McGonagall as Headmistress), very few other canon characters get more than a passing mention. (Ginny is almost totally absent from the story -- you may or may not consider this a good thing.) Like HHD, Lippert's story is very OC-heavy, but he doesn't even use many canon names; there were no Goyles or Patils or Changs among James's classmates.

Instead, he gives James two Muggle-born friends whom he meets on the Hogwarts Express: Zane Walker and Ralph Deedle. Zane is an American whose father is working in London. If you're groaning at the arbitrary inclusion of an American character, I don't blame you, but Zane actually fits in pretty well. He doesn't revolutionize Hogwarts by introducing iPods; mostly he makes a lot of Yank wisecracks.

It's the visitors from Alma Aleron, an American wizarding school, who might make you groan a bit more, especially when you find out who one of their teachers is.

Despite the fact that being an American author, Lippert apparently felt like he just had to include a lot of American characters, James does remain the star of the story, and the American characters are, for the most part, rather interesting, and a mix of good guys and bad guys.

There are three main themes in the story:

1. James trying to establish an identity for himself as the son of the famous Harry Potter.

2. A movement (primarily led by Slytherins) to rewrite history, casting Voldemort as a misunderstood revolutionary and Harry and the Aurors as the oppressive historical revisionists.

3. A more mystical plot involving angry spirits and the return of a powerful legendary figure to the wizarding world.

So, what did I think? Overall: I liked it, with reservations. It's a good story. It's well-written; definitely above-average fan fiction. It's not, however, the best I've ever read, and without Lippert's aforementioned talent for publicizing it, I don't think it would have achieved nearly the popularity it has on its own strength.

Lippert does a fair job of capturing a Rowlingesque writing style. JPATHOEC has a tone very similar to the first few HP books: it's mostly light-hearted and fun, with some serious moments.

Where he lost me a bit was his need to "explain" magic. Here's where you can really tell that the author is a computer nerd. He has the American teachers introducing "Technomancy," and giving what I call the Star Trek version of magic: magic is really just the ability to rearrange matter and energy at the subatomic level blah blah blah. Need I mention that the word "quantum" is used a lot?

I don't think magic needs to be "explained" in Harry Potter, nor do I think it adds anything to the story.

Characterization was good. He got the canon characters mostly true to the books, and the OCs were, for the most part, interesting, unique, and believable. Ironically, the character I thought was the least interesting was James. That's not to say he didn't have a personality or that it wasn't believable: he's very much like how I'd imagine James Potter to be. He's basically a younger version of Harry, but having had a happy, stable childhood and growing up in the wizarding world. He comes to Hogwarts much more confident and prepared than Harry did, which means that really, the only conflict for him is the need to prove himself, and I think this desire gets stretched a bit at times just to give James a reason to want to go get into trouble.

I also think that Lippert's eleven-year-olds often didn't really act eleven, but I really shouldn't throw stones in that regard since I've been accused of the same problem with my preteen characters.

The plot is probably where I had the most problems. For one thing, it's where Lippert really goes off the canon rails, introducing a lot of new elements that, while not strictly violating canon, definitely don't have any precedent in the books. I don't necessarily have a problem with that (you may feel I do the same thing in AQATDR), but for me, there was a strong deux ex machina feel to the resolution. Also, the brand new non-Voldemort Big Bad Lippert created so that James would have an enemy in future books felt like it kind of came out of nowhere, and the connection to James felt particularly contrived; there's really no reason why James in particular should be the one who's destined to fight it.

The book also suffered from an awful lot of Adults are Useless syndrome, even moreso than the HP books did. You know, the old: "Why don't we tell the adults about this evil conspiracy?" "Umm... because they won't believe us. We have to find proof!" And when the adults are involved, they invite James and his friends to tag along or even help out (in dangerous and uncertain situations where none of them really knows what's going on) just because they're there.

Lastly, I found the way the adults dealt with (or rather, didn't) the revisionists to be startlingly ineffective and implausible. You don't fight against obvious, blatant lies by doing nothing and saying, "People are going to believe what they believe."

So, overall I give JPATHOEC 4 out of 5 stars. I liked it well enough to read the sequel, and it probably is the best James Potter fic I've seen so far. However, I'm hoping Lippert will polish up his storytelling a bit, strike a better balance between whimsical kids running amok and sinister adult conspiracies, and hopefully leave out the Americans in the next book.


Jan. 16th, 2010 06:14 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the review
Hey, thanks! I'm George Norman Lippert, writer of the books in question (to prove it, I'll tell you that the climax of the current book will include cameos by a bunch of memorable faces from HP history, but don't feel like you need to check up on that if you are willing to take my word for who I am).

I really appreciate the thoroughness and fairness of your review of JPHEC. Despite the number of the readers the story has gained, there have only been a few in-depth literary reviews. I soak them up wherever I can find them.

I myself can find a lot to critique in this, my first full-length novel, especially now that some time has passed and I have written a good bit of other material. Some of the story's problems, I think, stem from the fact that I did not initially write this tale for any audience other than myself. I was merely writing a story that I would want to read. This explains the Americans' presence, among other things. Other quirks are, I must admit, simply the bumbling mistakes and plot cliches of the sort of writer that I am-- an unadulterated amateur who won't be quitting his day job anytime soon.

Regarding Technomancy, it is interesting how much of a great divider that one aspect has proven to be. I would dare to say that absolutely everyone has a strong opinion about it, one way or the other, and even more interestingly, the reader response seems to be almost exactly split down the middle, with half hating Technomancy and finding it boring or even vaguely blasphemous, and the other half loving it and finding that it makes the magical world all the more interesting and realistic. Obviously, I fall on the latter side of this argument, but I respect those who chafe at the concept.

Despite the rough edges of this story, however, I am pleased that there isn't a lot more to critique, and I am thrilled that the tale earned a remarkable 4 out of 5 stars from you. Thanks!

Lastly, I do hope you continue on with the series, if only because most readers feel that "James Potter and the Curse of the Gatekeeper" is orders of magnitude better than its predecessor. I happen to agree.
Jan. 16th, 2010 07:46 pm (UTC)
Re: Thanks for the review
Hi there! I believe you are who you say you are. :)

I'm not surprised there's such a divergence of opinions on the science-geek explanation for magic. (See hermoinejean7's reaction above.)

Your first novel sounds a lot like mine (Alexandra Quick and the Thorn Circle). I was also inspired to write something I liked, had no idea if anyone else would find it interesting, and I do see big flaws in it now. And a lot of people liked it, but most of my readers agree that my subsequent books have been better.

I am looking forward to Curse of the Gatekeeper. I probably sounded a bit harsh in my review because I always write reviews looking for things to criticize, but although I did have some reservations about Elders' Crossing, it's on my favorites list.

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