The Mountains of Instead

Championing fiction as an escape from pandemics, politics and bad TV.

Space Boy (Review: I Am Number Four - Pittacus Lore)

I Am Number Four
Pittacus Lore
Penguin 2010

Nine of us came here. We look like you. We talk like you. We live among you. But we are not you. Our plan was to grow, and train, and become strong, and become one, and fight them. But they found us and started hunting us first. Now all of us are running. Spending our lives in shadows, in places where no one would look, blending in. we have lived among you without you knowing.
But they know.
They caught Number One in Malaysia.
Number Two in England.
And Number Three in Kenya.
They killed them all.
I am Number Four.
I am next.
(blurb courtesy of Goodreads)

This book has one of the best tag lines that I have ever come across: We Were Nine. Three Are Dead. I Am Number Four. I honestly got shivers down my spine and added the title to my wish list before I even knew what it was about. I had incredibly high expectations, based on those three small lines. The sad thing about high expectations is that it is so easy to be disappointed, and I'm afraid that I finished this book feeling a little let down and a lot confused.

Plot wise, the main frame of IAN4 is solid enough. Nine refugees from a war torn alien planet have been hiding out on earth since childhood. Humanoid in appearance, they have now reached their teens having spent their lives on the run from the cruel race that attacked their planet. Protected by a charm that allows them only to be killed in a certain order (providing they stay apart) three are now dead and the protagonist of this story is John – or number four. I liked the back story of his race, the Loric and their enemies, the Mogadorians a lot. I particularly liked that Lorien (his home planet) would appear to be very similar to earth, with the Loric being further along the evolutionary path than humans (they have several gifts or powers that humans don't). The Mogadorians are less familiar in the sense that they look a bit less human but more familiar when we learn that they are ransacking other planets as they have used up all the natural resources of their own home. Sound familiar? The world building is probably IAN4's greatest strength - I liked learning about these imaginary races and places and the information is slotted nicely into the more conventional storyline of boy-meets-girl while evil aliens try to kill him (well, sort of conventional).

So far, so good – neat plot, good back story and a sweet romance. However, where IAN4 fell flat for me was the actual characters. At first, when I felt that I couldn't really get into John's head, I thought that it was perhaps intentional - what with him being an alien and all. Then, as I read further I found that I wasn't really getting to know any of the characters. John is pleasant, love interest Sarah is pleasant, new friend Sam is pleasant and Henri (John's Lorian guardian) is pleasant while intriguing as is Sarah's ex, Mark (not quite so pleasant but with potential to be so). But that's it. Pleasant. Apart from Mark, who I felt showed promise as an interesting character in future installments, all the characters were pretty one dimensional. John Smith is, unfortunately, as bland as his name. This problem is compounded by some exceptionally flat dialogue – it all sounds a bit forced and sadly means that the thrilling climax is...well...not particularly thrilling as there is no-one to invest your emotions in. The Mogadorians fare no better as one-dimensional bad guys, not even afforded decent characterisation. The last few pages show promise for future character development and certainly encouraged me to wonder at how the storyline would pan out but they weren't enough to save my crashing disappointment.

Author Pittacus Lore is actually two writers – newbie Jobie Hughes and the more established James Frey. I've read one of Frey's adult titles and he is a relatively accomplished writer (although not to my personal taste) so I was surprised to find such flat writing in IAN4 – and particularly amazed at the boring dialogue. Perhaps he felt the need to dumb down for a younger audience (in which case he is sadly underestimating his readership) or perhaps he was involved more on a plot level and let Hughes take the writing reigns (in which case mentor up, Mr Frey). Either way, IAN4 shows none of the (infamously) imaginative flair found in his previous work. From the clear message on global warming which is repeated ad nauseum to John's relationship with Sarah, the writing lacks subtlety.  Disappointing when the overall plot is so strong.

I Am Number Four is the first in a series of books and I will certainly be picking up the second one when it comes out – just with lower expectations. A friend of mine grabbed my copy as soon as I was done with it and absolutely loved it – she regularly scorns my YA book habit and had no idea what IAN4 was about, so had no expectations whatsoever. She is keen to read book two and couldn't understand my criticism. Another reviewer mentioned to me that she was going to approach this title as she would a blockbuster movie (harmless fun and no substance, anyone?) and I think that that is an excellent idea. I suspect that, in this case, I have been let down more by my weighty expectations than the book itself. Talking of movies, IAN4 is currently being filmed for release next year and I have no doubt that it will make a pretty awesome film as the story has an excellent foundation. I look forward to perhaps getting to know the characters better on screen as well as getting to swoon at the gorgeous cast. Yum. Certainly pick up a copy of IAN4, treat is as a light, fun read and don't get bogged down in the hype – it may not have huge literary merit but it does have a slick storyline and a great deal of promise for the future.

Thank you to Penguin for sending me this title to review.


danya said…
I've seen mixed reviews of this one. I do understand how frustrating it is when you don't connect strongly with any of the characters! Often that is essential for me to like (or sometimes even finish) a book. Sounds like a lot of his characters weren't very interesting, unfortunately. Hope the second one is better!
I've been seeing this book around a lot. That's the problem when there is so much hype, I find I'm often disappointed too. Sorry, it didn't work out for you. Maybe book 2 will fix some of the author's problems. I'm still interested in giving this a read sometime though.
very interesting...
I had no clue that it was 2 authors writing as one, so thanks for that tidbit because I personally find that those sorts of books never work for me. I probably won't bother picking this one up.
Hmm. It's interesting to see another viewpoint. Most reviews I've read so far have all been raves .. for the action, maybe? And I had no idea about it being two authors either, that's interesting. Will be reading this soon as I need to pass it along, but should hopefully go into it with lower expectations!
Kristen said…
Oh wow! I had no idea it was a dual team of authors writing under one pen name - how interesting! I will be reading this one soon, so we shall see if I can get into the characters a bit more than you did. As long as the book moves I'm pretty satisfied as a reader. :)
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