Thirteen-year-old Parker Chance has endured years of ridicule at the hands of his adoptive family on account of his frequent “hallucinations”—until he finally decides to run away. His escape through the forest doesn’t quite go as planned when Parker’s life is saved by a stranger who claims to have the power to control electricity. The man uses this power to zap Parker into a tiny village buried in the mountains of Northern California.
The village of Stonyford Hollow is home to a species of humans who have evolved superhuman traits. Pieces of Parker’s trouble past begin to click into place when he discovers he is one of them.
Parker begins attending Knobhouse Academy where he learns he is one of five Specters in the universe with the power to travel by portal. As usual, Parker flouts the rules with a little harmless portal-hopping, but it all goes awry when he discovers someone wants to use his power to break a notorious scientist out of prison—the same crackpot responsible for his birth mother’s disappearance. Though Parker has been warned to put the mysterious circumstances of his mother’s disappearance behind him, he and his new friends are too curious for their own good.
T.S. Welti is a dear writer friend of mine. But before you cry “Biased!”, I’ve promised her that I would do an honest review of her debut novel “The Fifth Specter”, which is book one of the Parker Chance series. And honest is what you are going to get. =)
The book starts off with a glimpse at Parker’s life with his adoptive family, the Rooneys. Needless to say, the Rooneys—Clarence (dad), Victoria (mom), Jacob and Jacqueline (twins; biological kids of the Rooneys)—hate Parker Chance. The only one in the household who cares for Parker is Sophie, their old housekeeper who seems to know a lot about Parker’s past. These characters have interesting personalities so it was fun to see their interactions with Parker. There are also funny moments which kept with the light MG (Middle Grade) tone of the book. I didn’t, however, figure out how the Rooneys adopted Parker in the first place. I’m hoping that more of this will unravel in the next books of the series.
While the writing is fairly solid and clean, there were a few repetitive ideas and even fewer typos that could have been done away with it. Still, this is better than most and the editing mishaps (very minimal) did not detract from the story.
When Parker arrives in Stonyford Hollow, the village where the supers live, it brought me back to a Harry Potter scene with Harry coming to Diagon Alley for the first time. The awe and wonder, the realization that there was another world he could possibly belong to, and the similarity goes even farther when the people in the super world recognize Parker Chance for the white streak on his hair and for the fact that his mother was a celebrated super, thereby making Parker Chance famous by association. Ms. Welti’s super world is also as richly detailed, which made for an exciting read. We learn about electrotransporters, RoboChefs (I want one in my house!), and micrographs, among other things. Every super has their own powers, some of them having more than one. I thought it was fun exploring the different kinds of powers they could have. Ms. Welti’s worldbuilding is admirable and well thought-out.
Knobhouse Academy also reminded me a little bit about Hogwarts. There are five different halls (dorms): Epicurus, Caesar, Newton, Galileo, and Da Vinci. Each hall is represented by an animal mascot. Epicurus Hall, for instance, has eagles, and this is where Parker is placed by Professor Adler, his mentor. The Academy also has a sport that is similar to the human’s soccer game, which is called Cosmic Ball. The difference? They get to play using their super powers. Very cool!
So imagine a place teeming with high schoolers who have powers to play around with. Yeaahhh, there’s bound to be some troublemaking, right? Just as Harry had Draco to deal with, Parker has Blakely, whose family was rumored to be connected to spinnows (spinnows = BAD). But thankfully, Parker finds friends to help him in his (mis)adventures: Lucas, his roommate, and Norah, a smart girl with a secret super power. Together they poke their noses around to find the truth about Parker’s mother’s mysterious disappearance, her connection to the evil mad scientist Asteroth, and also to play detective with the suspicious thefts going on around the school. This is your typical MG adventure book with mysteries, action, villains, cool powers, and characters that you can be friends with.
I mentioned how I saw similarities to Harry Potter (book one). Let me say that the similarities end halfway through the book. (And, by the way, I LOVE Harry Potter so I didn’t have a problem with this.) A few other (minor) nitpicks I have: (1) I had a bit of a hard time trying to keep up with secondary and tertiary characters–it is a school setting after all, so there are going to be teachers and students. A lot of them. (2) Transitioning. There were certain places where the transition was brief and as a reader I wasn’t ready to move on to a different concept.
Overall, The Fifth Specter is an enjoyable book, and if I were a tween myself, I would have been totally engrossed in Parker Chance’s world and would secretly wish for superpowers of my own. I love the friendship between Parker and his friends, how they support each other. This book has a lot of good potential. It is an engaging read, and kudos to Ms. Welti for bringing Stonyford Hollow and Knobhouse Academy to life. I am looking forward to the next installment of the series so I can follow Parker Chance in his journey to explore his powers, his past, and to discover his own identity.