Secret Circles by F. Paul Wilson
Well, here we are with the second installment of the young adult series involving the soon-to-be Repairman Jack. Continuing on from Secret Histories, we are once again pitched in with Jack and Weezy growing up in Johnson on the fringes of the New Jersey Pine Barrens. In production terms, Gauntlet Press has produced one of its better pieces of jacket art, neatly capturing the antiquity of the pyramid. It’s interesting to compare this to the jacket design produced by TOR which is completely underwhelming. The repetition of the word “secret” in the titles continues the theme of the secret history of the world which underpins the entire series. But this reference to circles is somewhat pedantic. Let’s take the idea of the narrative arc. As you know, arcs are parts of a circle. To highlight the “obvious” notion that plots develop cause and effect which may have some degree of circularity is uninspiring, to put it mildly. Even a young reader might find it redundant to have all this explained at the end of the book.
I confess to finding the first outing in this Jack Junior version somewhat tedious as, regrettably, I find most modern young adult fiction indigestible. But this is a major improvement. We are caught up in the disappearance and probable kidnapping of a five-year old. It’s not Jack’s fault Cody Bockman goes missing, but he feels guilty in not having seen the boy home when he had the chance. This leaves us in the situation of knowing Jack will be at work in trying to get the boy back.
Why, then, is this “young adult” book more readable? Several factors are at work. The first is a less patronising approach. Despite the explanation of circularity referred to above, F. Paul Wilson has managed not to follow the more usual tendency of authors in dumbing down the plot and the language used. Although the vocabulary is slightly less demanding, it’s definitely pitched at “older” readers. More importantly, the adults are acting with a more appropriate level of intelligence (or lack of it). In part, this is forced because of Jack’s emerging interest in fixing things. Once Jack is exposed to the reality of marital abuse, we are into complex human emotions. Fortunately, Wilson keeps everything reasonably realistic as Jack wrestles with his conscience when “wiser” heads advise him not to interfere. Later thinking about whether he did the right thing strikes the right tone for adults, young and old. For younger readers it’s an engaging teaching vehicle. For the completists among us, it represents the first real attempt on Jack’s part to rationalise his value system. In the first book, there was too much left unsaid. Wilson has begun to take this origins project more seriously and the results are better.
The next factor is a more dense set of references from and to the Adversary Cycle and the Repairman series. Part of the appeal of any origins series is the opportunity to put all the building blocks in place for what we know is to come. By definition, this is an elaborate game. As readers, we can watch the author tick all the boxes while all the characters are going through the pages, oblivious to the significance of the events unfolding around them. So now we see the emerging relationship between Jack and Drexler more clearly and, thanks to Bloodline, we can understand why Cody’s kidnapper would not want to hurt Jack. The Traveling Circus pitches its tents. It’s good to see Walter Erskine back in action after The Touch, and is this an underground village along the lines we first saw in The Keep? The idea of a buried city is always interesting. In this case, we avoid the necropolis cliché and focus on how this might be connected to the pyramid. For those who like a little additional information, the creature is a q’qr, a survivor from the First Age. That said, the idea the pyramid would not have been found by more outsiders is a bit convenient. With the government overflying the area in helicopters, you would expect someone to have seen it, particularly if they were so interested in the first site discovered in Secret Histories. Experienced investigators would have widened the area of search. And then Jack can quickly pick out a fifteen-foot high pyramid on an aerial photo. . . Yeah, well, he’s good like that.
Despite my minor carping, this is a genuinely more interesting effort from Wilson with everything set up nicely for the third installment — Secret Vengeance. It’s worth having a look at.