A book review for parents
This science fiction/fantasy suspense thriller is the second in "The Gatekeepers" series by Anthony Horowitz and is published by Scholastic Publishing.
Evil Star is written for kids ages 10 and older. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
In Raven's Gate, the first book in this series, 14-year-old orphan Matthew Freeman is at the mercy of his foster mother and her neighbors — all modern-day witches — who plan to sacrifice him to free evil creatures called the Old Ones from another dimension. Matt is one of five children prophesied to save the world from destruction.
In Evil Star, Matt lives with reporter Richard Cole, who helped him escape the witches. The Nexus, a secret group sworn to protect earth from the Old Ones, provides for them. When an attempt is made on Matt's life, the Nexus tells Matt of a diary containing prophesies about the Old Ones and the five children. The diary has fallen into the hands of a corrupt Peruvian businessman named Diego Salamanda, and the Nexus is convinced that he plans to help the Old Ones escape from a portal in South America. Matt and Richard fly to Peru to meet with Nexus member Fabian. When Richard is kidnapped, Matt flees and meets a street child named Pedro, another of the five children mentioned in the prophesy.
Pedro and Matt go to Salamanda's home to search for Richard. Discovered by Salamanda, the boys are rescued by a driver who tells them to find his brother, Atoc.
The boys travel to Cuzco to find Atoc and call Fabian for help. When the city is flooded with Salamanda's men, Atoc rescues the boys and takes them to a secret Incan village and to Richard. Richard was never kidnapped but taken for his own safety. The Incan sorcerer called an amauta predicts elements of what the boys will experience in the days ahead.
The Incas send Richard, Atoc and the boys to meet Professor Chambers. She studies and writes about a strange set of animal pictures drawn in the sand, which are so large that they can only be seen from the air. She believes these symbols may be a warning about the end of the world.
Salamanda puts a satellite into orbit so he can align the stars and allow the Old Ones to escape near the sand symbols. With the help of a small army of Incas, Matt and the group raid Salamanda's satellite station, where they find Fabian and learn he is a traitor. Matt uses his power to blow up the station, killing Fabian and others, while saving his friends. When Matt attempts to disable the satellite, Salamandra tries to kill him. Matt deflects the bullets with his powers, which kills Salamanda with his own ammunition.
The Old Ones escape, erupting from the ground in the form of massive creatures before shape-shifting into swarms of flies, an army of men, freakish, unrecognizable shapes and then skeletons. The terrifying King of the Old Ones emerges, and it takes all of Matt's and Pedro's supernatural powers to fend off the army. Though they're able to drive the Old Ones from sight, Matt feels with his precognitive powers that they will be back. Matt and Pedro realize they must find the other three children in the prophecy so they can protect the earth together.
Joseph of Cordoba, known as the Mad Monk, writes a diary about an alternate history involving the Old Ones and the five powerful children. Mr. Simmons, head teacher at Matt's school, leads the students in hymns. He's a religious man and likes to think the rest of the school is, too. The Nexus includes representatives from the organized church. Though no denominational affiliation is mentioned, one member wears a collar and crucifix, and Matt thinks he's some kind of priest. As Matt looks at the pictures inside a church, he wonders why religion has to be so dark and cruel. People on Matt's bumpy flight mutter prayers for safety. Chambers refers to a star so far away and so bright, they're actually seeing it as it was in the time of Christ. A news article reports that Matt's passage through a bricked-up door in a church is a sign of the Last Judgment. A spokesperson for the Vatican tries to defuse that rumor.
Gwenda and Brian, Matt's aunt and her boyfriend, whom he lived with before going into foster care, fought a lot, and Brian drank. They only took Matt in for the money. Sebastian, an English-speaking man with whom Pedro and many other street children live, has the kids peddling and stealing for him. Pedro says Sebastian only hurt him when Sebastian was very drunk and that Sebastian usually apologized the next day. Sebastian puts himself at risk to help Matt and Pedro learn Salamanda's secrets. Richard, though thrust into the role of Matt's guardian, demonstrates concern for Matt's safety and well-being. While he takes care of the boy's basic needs, he does not provide discipline or prevent him from entering dangerous situations.
Other Belief Systems
The Incas believe Matt has great power and will continue to become stronger. An Inca tells Richard that his part in this adventure was written for him before he was born. Richard then asks if that means he has no choice, and the Inca replies that we all have choices, but our decisions are already known. Matt has precognitive abilities. Feelings of cold or the smell of smoke often trigger his precognition. He knew about the car accident that would kill his parents before it happened.
When Matt is angry at a classmate, he feels as if he's becoming a channel for some power he can't stop. As he feels flames flowing through him, an enormous chandelier in one of the school buildings explodes. He recognizes it as the same power that allowed him to escape the witches in Raven's Gate. He is initially concerned because he doesn't know how to harness and control the power he possesses. One of the Nexus members with whom Matt has contact is a blind psychic who accurately predicts the future. Matt's English teacher says many in Shakespeare's time believed in witchcraft and black magic. Morton, a bookseller who owns the diary that Matt is seeking, shows Matt the cuts all over his wrists. Morton doesn't know whether he's made them, but he attributes them to the evil found within the diary. He also says he knows the diary's secrets, so it won't let him live. At Morton's request, Matt goes through a door in a church that leads him into another monastery in a far away land. He later learns that doorway was sealed up with bricks long ago.
When Matt sees a sign warning of danger in the Peruvian airport, he wonders if it might be prophetic. Pedro has healing powers and is able to save Matt after a brutal beating by police and his encounter with the Old Ones. Chambers calls Pedro's power thaumaturgy and says cultures like the Incas frequently treated illness using some type of inner psychic ability. Matt and Pedro can communicate fluently with one another when both are asleep and dreaming, though they speak different languages and have a hard time communicating while awake. Matt often thinks back to the words of the Nexus psychic or the Inca amautas when an event occurs as they predicted it would. Pedro's mother used to tell him he was born under an evil star. Pedro says they have to go where the driver told them to go because he died helping them and his ghost would never forgive them.
As Atoc takes the boys through the cloud forest, he wraps a pebble with some leaves and tells the boys to leave it in their mouths because when it mixes with saliva it will give them strength. Magically, the path that brought Atoc and the boys to the secret Incan village disappears. The Inca leader in the village tells Richard and the boys that a new world is on the horizon, and he believes the Incas can once again gain their rightful place in it, if the Old Ones can be stopped. An Incan prince also tells how Viracococha, the father of all things, sent his son, Manco Capac, to earth to teach the people how to live properly and to found the Inca empire. The amauta gives Richard a golden statue of a god that is also a weapon. Chambers says in primitive societies, deformity was something to be feared. It was a bad omen. Matt sees the stars and notes they are falling into the same places dictated for them 26,000 years ago. Salamanda tells Matt that we (humans) belong to the Old Ones.
The headmaster at Matt's school and Professor Chambers use God's name, and the words h--- and d--n each appear once. Gwenda kills Brian with a kitchen knife and leaves his body on the sofa for a long period of time, causing the neighborhood to stink. She also fractures the skull of the driver whose fuel truck she hijacks, and she meets her own demise in a fiery explosion when she runs the truck into Matt's school. Morton dies a bloody death after being stabbed at a church. A number of battles and skirmishes involving modern and ancient Incan weapons leave men dead, strangled, crushed or otherwise wounded and bloody. Giant condors attack Richard, Atoc, Chambers and the boys, ripping into flesh and causing significant bloodshed. The emergence of the Old Ones from the earth is nightmarish and frightening, and Matt describes the King of the Old Ones as too gigantic to be seen and too horrible to be understood. Salamanda's appearance is ghastly and terrifying. His head is twice as long as it should be and horribly deformed. His parents purposely stretched his head, sandwiching it between two wooden planks, in keeping with an old Peruvian custom that was sometimes practiced on children who were considered "special."
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- What two forces were working on Morton the bookseller, making it hard for him to decide what to do with the diary?
Have you ever been torn between two emotions, such as fear and greed?
How difficult was it for you to come to an important decision?
What was your dilemma?
What did you do about it?
- After hearing the Inca's prediction that the Old Ones will escape, Matt wonders why he should even bother trying to stop them.
Along those lines, if the Bible says there will be evil in the world no matter what you do, why should you try to fight it?
How can you fight it?
- What do you think of the Inca telling Richard that we all have choices, but that our decisions are already known?
Do you agree or disagree with the statement?
What choices do you have in your life?
Who, if anyone, knows what decisions you will make?
- Why does Salamanda try to help the Old Ones?
What does he hope to gain?
What does he mean when he tells Matt that there is no such thing as enough.
Do you know (or know of) anyone who believes you can never have enough money, power or things?
What are the dangers in pursuing all the earthly stuff you want?
- How does Matt feel about the adults in this story?
Which grown-ups help him?
Which betray him?
What does he say makes the bad ones (such as Salamanda, Rodriguez the policeman and Fabian) the way they are?
Is there anything wrong with being ambitious and wanting to change the world?
Where did these men go wrong?
What made them take their ambition in a negative direction?
How can you be ambitious in positive ways?
Can you think of anyone you know (or know of) who has done this?
- Matt and his friends believe the Old Ones are the original evil beings in the universe.
What do you believe?
Where do you think evil came from?
Why do you believe this?
- Do people in our world have powers that allow them to see the future, heal others or cause things to explode with their minds?
If you could have a "super" power, what would you choose and why?
What does the Bible say about the power God gives those who follow Him?
What do you think you could do by letting God's power flow through you?
- How did the Incas explain the beginning of life on earth?
How was their story about the sun god similar to what the Bible says about creation and Jesus coming to earth?
- Professor Chambers says some cultures believe deformity is a bad omen. Salamanda's parents believed that causing their son's deformity would make him special.
How does our culture view people with special needs?
Do you know anyone who has special needs?
How do you feel about him or her?
How do people treat this person?
What does a God see when He looks at this person?
Alcohol use: Richard orders a beer on the flight to Peru. Sebastian drinks and gets drunk several times. Nexus member Natalie Johnson has a glass of wine. The boys are served an ancient Incan beer at a restaurant. They're given more of this beer in the secret Incan village, but Richard drinks it. At the celebration party, the Incas place glasses of red wine before Richard, Atoc and the boys. The beer and wine flow more freely as the night wears on, and Matt thinks he's probably had more than what's good for him. Dr. Chambers drinks beer at her home. When Matt discovers Fabian in Salamanda's lab, he can tell Fabian has been drinking.
Lying: Matt lies to his teacher about why he's late for class because it's easier than telling the truth.
Smoking: Sebastian almost always has a cigar in his mouth. Dr. Chambers smokes cigars and cigarettes.
Stealing: Pedro and other kids steal for Sebastian, who gives them shelter and food.
Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.