The Paladin Prophecy

Mr. Reindeer

White Lodge
Apr 13, 2022
775
1,740
BOOK 1

This book, the first in a trilogy, marks another change of gears for Frost, writing for the first time for a Young Adult audience. Perhaps not insignificantly, this first book in the series was published in 2012, when Frost’s son Travis was nine years old. Frost told Wired magazine that the story came to him “lock, stock and barrel” one day: “I had something I needed to process, and say, about my experience of growing up and this became the vehicle for it.”

I’m admittedly not someone who has ever read any YA books, really. I did read the Hunger Games books and very much enjoyed them, but what I’ve seen of the other stuff in this genre just doesn’t appeal to me. I’ve never even read the Harry Potter books…maybe it’s partially the contrarian or elitist in me, but I never felt any draw to the material. My point being, I don’t really have much of a frame of reference for how these Paladin books compare to the larger body of YA literature, aside from my own preconceptions which may well be inaccurate.

Timeline: The story begins on the morning of Tuesday, November 7, a combination of date and day of the week that did not occur between 2006 and 2017. November 7 would have fallen on a Tuesday in 2012—the year the book was published—if not for the Leap Year, so perhaps this is Frost’s way of presenting the books as a slightly askew version of our world. Other anecdotal evidence in the book indicates that it might take place either in 2011—based on Dr. Rourke’s accounting of how many classes have been initiated at the Center since 1915—or in 2010—based on Ajay impliedly starting his freshman year in 2009.

At the start of the book, we are immediately introduced to fifteen-year-old Will West, our protagonist, who lives a very regimented and sheltered life governed by “Dad’s Rules to Live By,” a set of enumerated rules drilled into his head by his (apparently) well-meaning father Jordan. These rules sort of act as a framework throughout the book, with various numbered rules from the list popping up periodically throughout the story to guide Will as he confronts difficult situations. They range from pretty good advice about being present in the moment, to paranoid admonitions to avoid drawing attention to himself and to trust no one. Will’s family has moved around a lot throughout his life (although all within the states of California, Arizona and New Mexico—they apparently don’t like to fly). This migratory existence has prevented him from ever forming friendships (Dad’s Rules also probably haven’t helped in that regard). For a teenager, Will seems oddly non-resentful and OK with his parents being his only friends. His latest home, Ojai, is his favorite, and it’s perhaps not coincidental that Frost and his family moved to Ojai right around the time the book was coming out (Frost discusses his relationship with the city in this article: Ojai People: Mark Frost, Storyteller – Ojai History). The vivid sensory descriptions of Ojai as Will runs through the streets on his way to school read as Frost’s love letter to the city, which Will describes as a refuge; although in true Frost fashion, he also acknowledges the darker side to the city’s history, briefly referencing the native Chumash people being driven out by “civilization” (“Tell the Chumash about ‘refuge,’” thinks Will).

Very quickly (before the first chapter is done), the book plunges the reader into a series of conspiracy-fiction and sci-fi tropes: black sedans full of black-suited and black-capped men following Will; psychic communications from parties unknown; parasitic alien-like “bugs” called Ride Alongs with mind-control abilities (we later learn that these guys can somehow even possess inanimate objects and bring them to life); Will realizing he can run freakishly fast when, for the first time in his life, he ignores his father’s rules about holding back. It’s a very frenetic way to start a book, and I sort of wish there’d been a bit more build-up, and in particular, development of the relationship between Will and his parents. By the end of the first chapter, I was wondering if the entire 500+-page book was going to be this exhausting. In subsequent chapters taking place that same morning, Will is pulled out of class and recruited to attend a highly exclusive and top-secret preparatory school in Wisconsin called the Center for Integrated Learning, apparently due to a standardized test Will recently took where he scored impossibly high. There then follows another long suspense/action sequence of Will realizing his parents have been possessed by the enemy (the Ride Along “bugs” again), and now finding himself entirely on his own, Will has to flee Ojai and get to the safety of the Center. Frost’s other fiction books ease the reader into the world with much more finesse and gradual build-up to the action in an artful way over several chapters; I wonder if the more sprint-like nature of these opening chapters of Paladin is based on Frost’s perception of the attention spans of younger readers, feeling like he needs to grab them with action immediately. The book does finally settle down a bit once Will gets to the Center.

During his escape from Ojai, Will hooks up with a cab driver named Nando, who senses that the kid is in trouble. Frost tries to write Nando’s dialogue as being somewhat “street” and gives a sense of his colorful and possibly sketchy family history, but Nando has a heart of gold and becomes Will’s eyes and ears back in Ojai for the rest of the book. It’s a little ridiculous that this guy (who has a wife and two daughters) goes so above and beyond in helping this kid he just met: he seemingly takes days off from his job, and as things get crazier, he never asks Will what’s actually going on, despite the great risk to life and limb he’s putting himself in.

Will’s other adult ally is Dave Gunner, a New Zealand man whom we eventually learn died in a helicopter crash in Vietnam in 1969. Not exactly a ghost but also definitely not alive in the strictest sense, Dave is a Wayfarer, a being charged with protecting Will. He works for an etheric “corporation” called the Hierarchy. Some Theosophy stuff creeps in here (teens love Theosophy!). Dave refers to the Hall of Akashic Records. Akashic records are a theosophical concept: a hypothetical compendium of all thoughts and emotions ever to have occurred across all of timespace, encoded in the mental plane. Dave also refers to the Legion of Thoughtforms, possibly referencing the 1905 theosophical text Thought-Forms by Annie Besant and C. W. Leadbeater, which postulates about the way thoughts influence the life experiences of the thinker and others in the thinker’s vicinity. Dave also says the Hierarchy answers to the Planetary Logos. Logos is Greek for “word,” and the theosophical application of the term seemingly owes its genesis to John 1:1 in the Christian bible (“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”). In Theosophy, logos refers to the concept of a deity, but with a specific focus embedded in the word on the way thoughts and words manifest themselves as creation (going back to that “thought-forms” idea again). Although “planetary logos” was not a concept that existed in classical Theosophy (i.e., the original work of Helena Blavatsky and her peers), it evidently came about in later generations as the ideology evolved, and is apparently rather controversial. In any event, the idea is that in addition to the more universal logos, there are also more minor logos which oversee individual planets. (Reflecting this, Dave makes it a point to say that he isn’t working for God, and that the Hierarchy is “a strictly local outfit with local responsibilities.”)

Dave eventually reveals that the Hierarchy is battling against the Older Root Race, a race that inhabited Earth before humans (a bit similar to Lovecraft’s Elder Things in At the Mountains of Madness). This race made brilliant scientific advances (including aphotic technology), but became corrupted and “brought all manner of unnatural creatures into this world that were never meant to be” through genetic manipulation. The Hierarchy intervened and had the Old Ones and all their creations banished to an “interdimensional holding area,” the Never-Was. For centuries, the Old Ones have managed to communicate with corruptible humans whom they bribe with technology, and in exchange, those humans aid the Old Ones’ attempts to break through and regain control of Earth. It turns out everyone is after Will because he is (unbeknownst to him) an Initiate: a member of the Hierarchy.

Dave refers to some of the beasts who break through from the Never-Was early on during the story as gulvorgs and burbelangs. Oddly, both words seem to be slightly-misspelled names of creatures from Dungeons & Dragons…although at least in the case of berbalangs, the D&D incarnation seems to be inspired by a “real” mythical flesh-eating ghoul in Filipino culture, first introduced to western civilization in an 1896 account by a British Naval officer. I couldn’t find any information on gulvorgs, or guulvorgs, outside of D&D. Later on in the book, we see a lamia, a part-woman-part-snake monster from Ancient Greek mythology (Frost, presumably feeling that “part-woman-part-snake” didn’t have quite enough pizzazz, also makes it part spider as well). Towards the climax of the book, a wendigo (a cannibalistic monster from the myths of several Native American cultures) plays a prominent role, breaking through from the Never-Was and devouring the souls of anyone it encounters. Coach Jericho refers to the creature as a “Wi-indi-ko” in Native American parlance, and says it is actually one of the Old Race (as opposed, presumably, to the other monsters who are the creations of the Old Race’s genetic experiments).

In addition to super intelligence and super speed, another talent of Will’s is the ability to “push” ideas and images into people’s heads, sort of a Jedi mind trick but more visually based, I guess. Will has been aware of this power from a young age, and his parents helped him develop it in private, but also insisted that he never actually use it on anyone due to the moral implications of invading someone’s mind. In the interest of self-preservation, hunted by the Black Caps and the feds (who may or may not be controlled by the Black Caps), Will decides he has no choice but to use his ability.

The Center has access to advanced technology, including computer tablets that do seemingly impossible things, such as changing physical size and shape, taking DNA scrapings, and creating “syn-apps”—a clever portmanteau of “synchronized synthetic applications”—basically a very sophisticated Wii Mii-like avatar that exactly mirrors the personality of the user and facilitates all sorts of virtual exploration and research. The Center also rather inexplicably has a force of drivers and security agents which seems to be made up entirely of American Samoans, possibly all related.

As the story progresses, Will begins to encounter potentially sinister connections between the Center (founded by a Dr. Thomas Greenwood in 1915), the private-but-government-funded organization that administered the standardized test which brought him to the Center’s (and the Black Caps’) attention, and his own family history, leaving him unsure whom he can trust besides his four pod mates. It is rather surprising that, for all the good old-fashioned ’70s-style paranoia Frost injects into this story for teenagers, the one area where the protagonists seem to feel completely safe is in using their school-issue tablets to conduct all manner of research into the conspiracy. One would think that these kids, especially the tech-savvy Ajay, would be worried about the school monitoring their activities on the tablets, particularly as they suspect the Center’s possible involvement.

One of my generalizations about YA fiction—which, as I have already admitted, are based on having not actually read any YA fiction all the way through—is that I get the sense that the characters are often flat, uninteresting and stagnant. Will certainly is not the most dynamic or memorable protagonist. He’s very much an audience insert character to whom stuff happens, and the readers can imagine it happening to them, which I guess is what kids want (or what publishers think kids want). The other kids he meets at school are a mixed bag. Ajay Janikoswki is the ingenuous, sweet, somewhat long-winded mechanical genius. Ajay has inhumanly great eye sight, as well as a secret ability he hasn’t yet told the school or the others about: a literally photographic ability to recall everything he’s ever seen, including memorizing whole documents at a glance. Brooke Springer starts out as snarky and charming and has a bit of a Moonlighting-type dynamic with Will in their early dialogue, but she quickly falls for him and after that becomes a pretty bland character, mostly defined by worrying about Will’s safety and by her fear of breaking rules. In the book’s climax, she takes on the unfortunate role of damsel in distress, sidelining her from the action completely as the others try to rescue her. Musician and equestrian Elise Moreau, the most interesting of the bunch, starts off as rather aloof, but we come to learn that she has powers similar to Will’s (including the ability to communicate psychically with him), and that she had been dating Ronnie Murso, the kid who lived in Will’s room previously and mysteriously disappeared, explaining her emotionally detached personality. Like Brooke, Elise is sidelined from the action for much of the book, typically hanging back while the guys handle most of the dangerous stuff, feeling once again like Frost’s approach to gender roles is a bit colored by the generation he was born into and the stories he was raised on. That being said, as Elise opens up and reveals more of her personality, she becomes the most fully-realized character in the book. Nick McLeish is the most obnoxious of the group. A dude-bro athlete (oddly, a gymnast…Frost defying stereotypes a bit), Nick is consistently portrayed as a dim bulb who is purely at the Center on athletic scholarship. This leaves the reader to question how high the Center’s academic standards could possibly be if they can admit a guy who thinks “Middle Ages” means the same thing as “middle-aged,” or confuses Buddhist lamas with the animal. Although Nick is shown to be loyal and brave, he’s also impetuous and just so so dumb, making him the constant butt of the others’ rather mean-spirited retorts. Frost obviously intends for Nick to be a comic relief character, but his stupidity is so over-exaggerated that it’s usually just annoying. There’s a lot of groan-inducing obvious punning that I guess maybe is funny to the intended teen audience (or, perhaps more likely, it’s the type of dad humor that older people think kids find funny).

As is common in Frost’s works, there is a class element to the story. Brooke, Will’s love interest, is the only one of the five pod mates who comes from a wealthy family, and indeed, her father is an alum of the Center. The other four are all anomalies among the student body: coming from middle-class backgrounds (or in Nick’s case, working-class), and getting into the Center on merit-based full scholarships rather than through prior connections. The character of Lyle Ogilvy embodies the worst elitist tendencies of such a prep school environment, as he views the admission of such lower-class riff-raff as an attack on the very foundations of what he believes to be proper civilization. Lyle is the provost marshall at Will’s dorm (which appears to be more or less an R.A.-type position with a lot more overreaching authority—the Center has a strong belief in students governing themselves). Rather unsurprisingly, Lyle also is quickly revealed to be a cog in the conspiracy and the main antagonist of this first book. One can’t help but get the sense that the Center, if it’s not complicit in the conspiracy, at the very least displays excessively poor judgment in giving a dick like Lyle any kind of authority.

This is only the second of Frost’s books to take place in the present-day, after Before I Wake, and Frost makes a game but somewhat cringy attempt at inserting slang like “holmes” and “ridonkulus” and “crapalicious,” as well as other juvenile nonsense like “My head’s about to asplode,” and a half-dozen “dick” puns in the span of as many sentences (much of this is in Nick’s dialogue). Another issue I had is the characters constantly making glib, smartass comments while they’re in the midst of life-threatening and/or shocking situations. This is obviously a trend in a lot of big blockbuster films—and I’m guessing in YA literature as well, although as I said, I don’t have a ton of familiarity there. I can understand Frost’s desire to attempt to make the dialogue clever or interesting. People in actual dangerous situations probably don’t say the most riveting stuff (probably mostly just a lot of screaming and gibbering and panting, I would guess). But there has to some balance with keeping a little bit of naturalism. When every line is some kind of snarky comment, even if it ostensibly comes from a place of the character being nervous and deflecting with humor, it eventually just comes off as shallow and annoying, and undermines any tension in the moment.

Another issue with a nearly-sixty-year-old Frost trying to write teen characters is that the cultural references all trend very…well, old. Lost Horizon, Three Dog Night, the Village People, Chuck Norris, Robin Williams (Nick alludes to a bit from Williams’s 2002 Live on Broadway special). Maybe some of these are things that a quirky/smart fifteen-year-old in 2012 would be aware of, but the accumulation of all these older references while the kids never make any reference to contemporary music or culture whatsoever strains credulity.

Continued in next post due to character limit
 
Last edited:

Mr. Reindeer

White Lodge
Apr 13, 2022
775
1,740
The deepest-dive mythology element in this first book is the myth of the Knights of Charlemagne, also known as the Paladins or the Twelve Peers. As he settles in at the Center, Will quickly becomes aware of a secret society of students with links to the Never-Was and the Black Caps, a society which seems to have drawn its name and its iconography from the mythical knights (ominously enough, the Center itself uses a Paladin as its mascot). The Knights of Charlemagne originated in the romantic epic poetry of 11th-century France, where they fulfill a similar role to King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table, as chivalric Christian warriors, most famously in the Song of Roland. The Paladins also appear prominently in two seminal Italian epic poems from the 15th and 16th centuries: Orlando Innamorato, by Matteo Maria Boiardo, and the sequel/continuation Orlando Furioso by Ludovico Ariosto.

In a list found by our heroes at the secret society’s meeting place, the Twelve Peers are named (the members of the club seemingly role-play as the various knights during their rituals). In reality, there is no definitive list as to whom the mythical Twelve Peers were, as the members vary from one source to another, but Frost chooses twelve (whom I will discuss briefly below). Despite the Knights’ French origins, Frost seems to favor the Italian names, perhaps because the iconic Italian works are more recent and therefore somewhat more accessible to modern audiences. For instance, Frost only ever refers to Roland by his Italian name, Orlando (French speaker Elise notes that all the names are French—or rather Frankish—except for Orlando, which she can’t identify, although several of the other names on the list are from the Italian counterparts as well).

Besides Orlando, the list includes: “Renaldo the Fox” (Renaud de Montauban, who originally appears as one of the eponymous brothers in the 12th-century French epic poem The Four Sons of Aymon, and later appears alongside Orlando in the Italian Orlando Innamorato and Orlando Furioso); “Namo the Duke” (Naimon, Duke of Bavaria, who appears in Song of Roland, but not as one of the Twelve Peers…he becomes part of the group in another French epic poem from the same era, Le Pèlerinage de Charlemagne); “Turpin the Archbishop” (better known as Tilpin, Bishop of Reims, a real historical figure, although probably much less warlike than the fictionalized character bearing his name, who is depicted in Song of Roland and becomes one of the Twelve Peers in subsequent poems); “Astolpho of the West” (a character who arises largely from the later Italian texts); “Ogier the Dane” (who originates in Song of Roland—like Naimon and Tilpin, he is not one of the Paladins in Song, but becomes one in subsequent French works of the era); “Malagigi the Enchanter” (original French name Maugris, he first appears in The Four Sons of Aymon alongside Renaud); “Florismart the Friend” (I believe this guy first shows up in the Italian works); “Ganelon the Crafter” (Roland’s stepfather who first appears in Song of Roland, in which he betrays the troops to the Saracens out of resentment of Roland’s popularity; I assume Frost is using “Crafter” in the sense of crafting lies); “Guerin de Montglave” (who first appears as one of the Peers in Song of Roland).

Two names on the list are a bit more mysterious to me. “Salomon the King” presumably refers to the biblical King Solomon, but considering that he lived in Israel and died 1,700 years before the reign of Charlemagne, it’s not clear what possible association he could have with the knights. As to “Padraig de Mort,” I’m not at all sure whom this might refer to (Padraig is the Gaelic form of Patrick, and “de Mort” of course means “of death” in French…who is “Patrick of Death”?). Although these two names are puzzling me, I’m not sure that they’re meant to, since Brooke matter-of-factly says that, per her research, these names were part of the Twelve Peers along with the others. Last of all is a thirteenth figure on the list, referred to in quotes only as “The Old Gentleman.”

There are also twelve masks (and corresponding hats!) that the Knights of Charlemagne members wear during their secret rituals in Frost’s book, and it’s not really clear what links the masks (and hats) may have to the personalities of the original mythical figures, if any. A couple seem like easy associations (the fox mask = “Renaldo the Fox”…maybe that’s too obvious?; the clown mask could be Astolpho, who was generally presented as a comic figure; we learn definitively by the end of the book that “Padraig de Mort” corresponds to the ghost mask). But beyond those, which of the Peers would be a pigtailed girl? Or a jack-o’-lantern? Or Ben Franklin, or George Washington? We’ll see whether future books shed any light…

Despite its YA trappings, in some ways, this series feels like the culmination of all Frost’s various fascinations. Given that, and given the genre, it’s only natural that Frost engages in one of his favorite devices, fudging the line between documented fact and conspiracy theories. For reasons that will perhaps become clear in future books (?), he portrays the real-world Triangle Fraternity (referred to in the book somewhat more grandiosely as “the Fraternity of the Triangle”) as a secret society with links to the Freemasons, as well as to the Center’s mysterious Knights of Charlemagne cult. As Frost correctly describes, the Triangle Fraternity’s emblem is the white chrysanthemum. However, in reality, they seem to be a perfectly harmless fraternity of engineering, architecture, and science majors founded in the early 20th century. I suppose due to the focus on architecture in particular, the Triangle Fraternity was a natural fit if Frost was looking for a student-based fraternal organization that could have ties to the Freemasons. We’ll see how it plays out.

In yet another bit of Frostian pseudo-historical conspiracy theorizing, FDR’s then-secretary of agriculture Henry Wallace appears in a 1937 photo with that year’s Knights of Charlemagne club at the Center. The very progressive Wallace went on to be vice president during FDR’s third term (the fact that a future vice president had apparent ties to the Knights of Charlemagne worries our heroes greatly). Not mentioned in Frost’s book, but historically true: Wallace was an avowed adherent of mysticism and the occult, and had a particular interest in Theosophy. When these beliefs eventually became public knowledge, they damaged Wallace’s reputation and led to him becoming a bit of a laughing stock. Presumably, Frost’s great uncle Will Hassett, who was FDR’s secretary for years, would have known Wallace and written about him in his extensive accounts of his time by FDR’s side. I’m very interested to see where Frost takes this in the future volumes.

As if all that weren’t enough, the Knights of Charlemagne also seem to have some link to the Crag, a mysterious off-limits castle on an isolated island in the midst of campus, in the middle of the fictional Lake Waukoma. The castle was built by a Civil War-era New England munitions magnate named Ian Lemuel Cornish, was later owned by the second headmaster of the Center Franklin Greenwood, and is now used as a private residence by a wealthy alum and donor to the Center, Stan Haxley.

Brief glimpses of Will’s classes give Frost a chance for a bit of philosophizing. Cynical no-bullshit Civics Professor Sangren teaches his students of the ruthlessness of the world and the importance of winning the “global knife fight” against China and India regardless of ethics or morals. Dan McBride’s class focuses on Ralph Waldo Emerson, and the more tenderhearted McBride insists that his students remain true to their instincts without fear of ridicule or judgment, and that they honor the everlasting present. Genetics Professor Rulan Geist expounds on the now familiar Frostian theme of choice vs. predestination, or as Geist puts it, “fate/nature vs. free will/nurture”…although Geist’s conflation of “free will” and “nurture,” which are not the same thing, again makes me feel that Frost’s approach to this topic is muddled, as it seemed to be to some extent with Leland/Bob in Twin Peaks (especially in Episode 16) as well as in books like Before I Wake. Geist also lectures about how only 7% of the building blocks of life are unique to humans, with this small percentage apparently leading to “human consciousness” and the ability to create art and scientific advances. Frost also, through Elise, references the Dunning-Kruger Effect, a type of cognitive bias first identified in 1999 wherein the more underskilled a person is, the more likely they are to overestimate their abilities.

The most intriguing teacher figure is cross-country Coach Jericho. Jericho is said to be full-blown Oglala Lakota, and descended directly from Crazy Horse, continuing Frost’s interest in Native American issues and honoring the original indigenous cultures of America. Although initially portrayed as a complete hardass and kind of a dick, Jericho is inevitably revealed to have a spiritual and mystical side, and emerges as a key ally to Will and his friends (at one point, he impliedly uses a bear tooth he wears around his neck to turn into a bear and help defend Nick!). While teaching at an elitist prep school may seem an odd fit for an angry displaced Lakota, and it doesn’t reflect too well on him that all of his douchebag running team are apparently part of the Paladin conspiracy, he reveals an interesting perspective on how he believes he’s making a difference: “Kids show up here full of ego, self-importance and the foolishness of the culture that raised them. It’s not their fault. If they leave here that way, it’s our fault.” Despite the inevitable impermanence of the universe (as exemplified by the fall of his own people), Jericho believes all peoples need to unite in order to resist evil. He also hints that he has knowledge of the earlier Root Race about which Dave told Will.

More nurturing figures at the Center are Dr. Lillian Robbins the psychologist, cowboy-hat-wearing headmaster Dr. Stephen Rourke, and staff physician Dr. Ken Kujawa.

A mysterious figure is the equipment master at the Field House (the school’s athletic center), Jolly Nepsted, a withered twisted character in a wheelchair who visually made me think of the Steven James Tingus character in Part 1 of The Return. Nepsted clearly knows more than he is letting on, and there is some implication that someone or something is keeping him locked inside the athletic center basement. I look forward to learning more about him in Book 2.

Other odds and ends:

The chapter “Sabotage” recounts a scenario very reminiscent of the classic Twilight Zone episode “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” (if you’re gonna steal, steal from the best, I suppose), with several gremlins on the wing of a plane destroying the engine, but no one besides Will can see them. Will identifies the creatures as gremlins thanks to “an old cartoon set in World War II.” The word “gremlin” first came to use in the British RAF in the 1920s as a superstition and/or tongue-in-cheek explanation for aircraft malfunctions. The term was popularized by Roald Dahl, who served in the RAF during WWII and was inspired by the experience to write his first children’s book, The Gremlins. The Gremlins was published by Disney with the plan that they would make it as a feature film (the original printing of the book has the words “From the Walt Disney Production” prominently displayed on the cover), but ultimately the Disney production was downgraded from a feature to a short, and then never ended up being made at all. The only remnants of the Disney production are several two-page dialogue-free gag-based comic book stories published in Walt Disney’s Comics & Stories from 1943-1944, drawn by Walt Kelly (former Disney animator and later the writer/artist of my all-time favorite newspaper comic strip, Pogo). The WWII-based cartoon Will West saw thus couldn’t have been the ill-fated Disney/Dahl production of Gremlins (unless this is another difference from our world, like the date discrepancy). There are several other WWII cartoons involving gremlins attacking planes (this competition/gremlin overexposure was one of the reasons Walt decided to abandon the Disney production), including two Warner Bros. Merrie Melodies shorts directed by Bob Clampett: the Bugs Bunny cartoon “Falling Hare,” and “Russian Rhapsody,” a whimsically wacky portrayal of the gremlins driving Hitler crazy during a German air strike on the Soviets (“We are gremlins from the Kremlin!”).

There’s a little bit of Twin Peaks-style food porn, revolving around a diner in Illinois called Popski’s (fictional, as far as I can tell). Will, in Dale Cooper style, speculates that “Popski’s was the place where they invented breakfast and no one had improved on it,” and school driver Eloni says a meal at Popski’s can revive the dead.

One of the more dubious Dad’s Rules is, “Never be nervous when talking to a beautiful girl. Just pretend she’s a person too.” One would think that “remember” or “be aware” would be more appropriate than “pretend”? Is the implication that girls aren’t actually people?

Massive Holmes fan Frost rather shamelessly has Will rip off Sherlock’s routine of correctly guessing Brooke’s entire life history based on simple observation of her.

While a pretty standard genre trope, the kids all sitting around with their tablets researching the Knights of Charlemagne etc. reminded me of some of the sheriff station scenes in late season 2 of Twin Peaks when Dale is putting together what Earle is up to, making associations and connections.

At one point, Nick—in typical moronic fashion—refers to Albert Einstein as “Norman Einstein.” This is presumably a reference to an infamous old interview quote from Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann: “Nobody in football should be called a genius. A genius is a guy like Norman Einstein.” (Although everyone at the time just assumed he’d gotten the name wrong, apparently Theismann was referring to the valedictorian of his high school class.)

Some of the action gets a little ridiculous, like Nick using his gymnastic skills to fly and jump all over as he battles the baddies, which starts to feel rather cartoonish…especially a particularly silly physics-defying shtick Nick repeats a few times in the final action sequence, where he throws a jump rope in such a way that it wraps around his opponents like bolas!

In a rather Peaksian bit of free-association dream messaging, a dream about a Beatles song and a pair of tennis rackets manages to key Will in to the word “egg,” which turns out to be a massive breakthrough in unravelling the mystery… Will’s final hypothesis, that he and his friends are all “test tube babies” (i.e., created through in vitro fertilization) gets a bizarre reaction from Elise and Nick, who both act extremely grossed out by the prospect (why? This especially makes no sense for the usually mature Elise). The more disturbing question is, why were their genetics presumably altered to give them superhuman abilities? And by whom?
 
Last edited:

Mr. Reindeer

White Lodge
Apr 13, 2022
775
1,740
BOOK 2: ALLIANCE

Ugh. Love triangle. I know it was foreshadowed at the end of Book 1. I know one of the goals of YA books is to provide wish fulfillment for a teen audience (in this case, moreso a male teen audience). But it’s such a frustrating reductive cliché to have both of the female leads fall for the lead male character; and it’s rather unpleasant how Will leads both of them on, and is constantly worrying about what he can get away with without pissing off one or both of them.

Look, the love triangle is a potentially valid (if way overused) trope. I’m not saying it has no value. Twin Peaks has multiple prominent love triangles, and a love triangle is also at the heart of Blue Velvet. But all of those triangles have something interesting to say about the characters’ identities, their underlying psyches, and what is driving them. The Will/Brooke/Elise love triangle just feels like typical Twilight-esque teen fare.

Alliance is a shorter book than the first, and a leaner and much more focused work—which is both a good and bad thing. I complained that the first book really threw the reader into the deep end of the pool right at the start, with all sorts of crazy action and mythology being tossed around with no context. Book 2 is curiously low-key in contrast. After a short and rather pointless first chapter that takes place in March (four months after the events of the prior book), the story jumps ahead again to June, which is when the rest of the book takes place: seven months after the events of the prior book. During the elapsed time, Will has been strangely unambitious in searching out leads to find his father (whom he learned at the end of the first book is still alive, and also is the grandson of the Center’s founder Thomas Greenwood). Unlike Book 1, which was all over the map in terms of setting up the mythology, Book 2 is hyper-focused on one specific mission, which is pretty low-stakes given everything else that was established in Book 1: the quest to retrieve the key (a product of aphotic technology) that opens the sports equipment cage lock, to release the enigmatic and imprisoned Happy Jolly Nepsted. Only once our five-student Alliance releases him will Nepsted reveal to them everything he knows about the Knights of Charlemagne.

It’s an interesting choice for Frost to place so much of the narrative thrust on Nepsted—a pretty minor character from the first book who only appeared in two chapters—and Stan Haxley, the wealthy school donor who owns the lake-locked castle in the middle of campus—a character who didn’t appear at all in Book 1 and was only briefly mentioned. Ultimately, Haxley ends up being seemingly a red herring, but he plays a pretty prominent role for much of the book as the villain apparent. (Although Haxley still isn’t entirely in the clear yet: he’s apparently the CEO of a genetic research collective called the Paladin Group, where Ronnie Murso’s dad was Haxley’s second in command until both father and son mysteriously disappeared last summer.)

By this point, Will’s abilities have grown to include a pretty impressive array of superpowers: super speed, stamina, restorative/self-healing abilities, telepathy and the ability to send “thought pictures” into people’s minds (as well as communicating psychically with Elise), telekinesis, and the ability to form a mental “Grid” of his surroundings (creating a sort of internal map that goes well beyond what he can actually see, as well as sensing the heat signatures of others who may be lurking in the vicinity). Elise, in addition to her telepathic and precognitive abilities, has the crazy sonic ability she demonstrated toward the end of Book 1, which is applied in some pretty outlandish and wacky ways this time out. I have to say, there aren’t many completely original ideas left that haven’t been done, but I don’t think I’ve ever before encountered a work of fiction where a character uses sonic resonances to pick a lock (!). (There’s a lot of stuff about keys and locks in this book.) Nick and Ajay’s powers remain the same as in the first book, and Brooke (as of the beginning of Alliance) is still discouragingly powerless. She does eventually manifest a “medical intuitive” “diagnostic” power as well as the power to heal others, and to amplify or deplete others’ power, all by means of touch.

The extended underground sequence is the most engaging portion of the book, with a nice sense of claustrophobia and foreboding, and some cool mysteries and revelations. A door labeled “Cahokia” leads to a tunnel containing three Paladin-style statues (depicting then-contemporary warriors from the WWII, WWI, and finally Civil War eras—the latter apparently placed by Ian Lemuel Cornish, the original inhabitant of the castle, perhaps as a memorial to his son who died at the Battle of Appomattox). Past the statues, the tunnel leads ultimately to a vast underground walled city, which was seemingly inhabited by the Older Root Race who preceded humanity on Earth, and seemingly abandoned after a battle (perhaps with the Hierarchy, as recounted by Dave in Book 1). Ajay carbon-dates one of the bones he removes from the city’s sacrifice pit as being at least ten thousand years old, with no genetic material that even remotely resembles a human.

As Ajay notes later on, Cahokia is in fact an ancient city in modern-day Illinois, dating from perhaps the 10th century (the name Cahokia was given to the location by French explorers in the 17th century, naming it after a tribe who lived in the area at the time and almost certainly had no link to whoever had originally lived in the ancient city). The implication is that whoever discovered these fictional underground ruins in Wisconsin (possibly Cornish) and built the door sealing off the access tunnel settled on the name “Cahokia” because he believed there was a connection to the more widely-known settlement. Frost cheats the real-world Cahokia to be older than it actually is, in order to make its tie to a more exotic earlier race more palatable. Furthermore, he has Ajay claim that the real Cahokia includes “extensive sections of sophisticated underground construction,” indicating an even earlier society that Cahokia was built on top of. I can’t find any reference to the real Cahokia having underground portions, and I assume Frost made this up.

My biggest issue with these books so far is that the characters just aren’t very interesting. Again, I realize that I’m not the target audience; but what really bugs me is that the characters don’t really seem to grow or change or evolve. They seem like basically the same thinly-defined people they were when we first met them. Frost seems to be most interested in building the mythology and developing the backstory, and that’s where his writing is most engaging. The characters feel like they’re mostly means to that end. I don’t know, maybe a teenager would find them more relatable and compelling.

Speaking of the mythology…

The big revelation of the book—in a long very exposition-heavy chapter called “Nepsted”—regards the Knights of Charlemagne. It’s worth clarifying, because it’s a bit confusing/convoluted, that the “Knights of Charlemagne” name refers to two distinct but related groups in this book. First of all, the Knights are a millennium-old fraternity of “secret guardians” presumably descended from the original twelve Paladins, supposedly devoted to preserving “education, science, medicine, charity, the arts, [and] spiritual enlightenment.” From their inception, the Knights have always maintained an association with a school or academy, “and always one serving in the vanguard of advances in science and philosophy,” from which they draw their new members. Around 1928, that school became the Center for Integrated Learning, leading to the creation of the Center’s own Knights of Charlemagne organization. The school’s version can only have twelve members each year, all seniors, representing the twelve historical knights. These students eventually go on to join the larger fraternity, which presumably has countless members all over the world, including in the highest branches of government.

In 1937, the school’s branch of the Knights became entangled with a newly-arrived professor at the Center, a former Nazi eugenics wiz named Dr. Abelson. One member of the Center’s Knights that year was Happy Nepsted—then still known by his birth name, Raymond Llewellyn. The son of Ohio hardware store owners, Llewellyn was at the Center on an academic scholarship. In the Depression era, the lure of improving the troubled world was irresistible, so he and his other fellow Knights submitted willingly to Abelson’s genetic “enhancements” for the supposed betterment of humanity—at the urging of Franklin Greenwood (Will’s grandfather), another of that year’s chosen twelve Knights in the Center’s senior class. The presence of then-secretary of agriculture Henry Wallace in a photo with the 1937 Knights, as previously referenced in Book 1, is revealed to have been at the urging of the Center’s founder and headmaster, Franklin’s father Thomas Greenwood, who had caught wind (to at least some extent) of Abelson’s plan and enlisted his old school friend Wallace to extract Franklin from the group. Wallace was seemingly successful. The other eleven Knights, sans Franklin, boarded a flight supposedly taking them on a “senior trip” to Europe, but in reality they circled back under cover of night and arrived at an underground hospital built near the Cahokia ruins, so that they could submit themselves to Abelson’s treatments without anyone questioning their absences from campus. Pretty quickly, Abelson’s methods proved to be an abject failure, as the experiment subjects started turning into goop one by one. Thereafter, expanding on the “senior trip” cover story, someone (Abelson? The Center?) staged a plane crash representing the supposed return flight from Europe, officially killing all the students off. Llewellyn/Nepsted, recounting this story in the present-day, doesn’t know what happened to Abelson (who officially died in the “plane crash” with the students), or precisely how much Thomas Greenwood and the Center did or didn’t know about Abelson’s work and the real fates of the students.

Only two test subjects didn’t turn into liquid. One is Edgar Snow, who became bigger and stronger, and also stopped aging—the only true success story. He evolved into “Mr. Hobbes,” the head of the Black Caps (the group that has been hunting Will since the first chapter of Book 1). The other subject who didn’t turn into liquid was Raymond Llewellyn. Poor Llewellyn didn’t deteriorate as most of the others had, but he also didn’t become a success story like Snow/Hobbes (other than the fact that he also ceased to age). Rather, disgusted by the inhumanity of what the tests had done to his fellow students and refusing to cooperate with whoever was now in charge of the operation, he remained a prisoner in the hospital until 1956—the year Franklin Greenwood became headmaster of the Center. Will speculates that Franklin must have taken pity on his former fellow Knight, as Snow/Hobbes was dispatched to take Llewellyn to Flagstaff and set him up with a new identity, on the condition that he never breathe a word of the experiments. Under the name Stephen Nepsted, he eventually got married, accidentally impregnating his wife even though he had tried to avoid doing so for fear of propagating some mutation from the experiments. The stress of worrying about how his child might be deformed or mutated caused Nepsted to start having alarming mutations himself—leading to him periodically melting into the tentacle-creature that saved Nick at the end of the prior book, and also causing Nepsted’s human body to shrivel into its current deformed state. Having caught wind of these changes, Edgar Snow/Hobbes then arrived to take Nepsted back into custody, with the promise that his wife and soon-to-be-born son would remain safe as long as he cooperated. Nepsted insisted that he not be returned to his cell, but be given a job that at least let him interact with the students—and according to Nepsted, the lock on the equipment cage was his own idea to prevent the temptation of trying to escape. Will and his friends reveal to Nepsted that the genetic alteration project has been revived circa 1990 as the Paladin Prophecy, now with help from the Old Race (colloquially referred to by Will as “the Other Team”). When Will asks Nepsted why he didn’t try to escape earlier after learning that the Knights had been revived on-campus, Nepsted cryptically responds, “I was waiting for you.”

In one of the cooler, more gruesome moments in the book, the fates of Abelson’s failed experiment subjects are revealed when Will and his friends come across them in the underground hospital: for the past 75 years, they’ve been stored as sentient liquid in tanks. They start frantically sloshing up against the sides of the tanks when they realize they have company. Pretty horrifying stuff for a kids’ book.

Curiously enough, the list of “plane crash victims” includes twelve names in addition to Dr. Abelson, and likewise, there are ten tanks of human goop in the hospital corresponding to the names of those who supposedly died in the flight (twelve minus Snow and Llewellyn). So if Franklin Greenwood never joined them, and only eleven Knights/students were experimented upon, who is the twelfth name on the list of victims, and the tenth person in a tank? One of the names on the grave is “Professor Joseph Enderman.” Did a faculty member submit to the treatment as well? This character is never mentioned except as part of the list of victims on the grave. None of the characters ever questions who this guy is or what he’s doing with the other liquified experiment subjects. Out of curiosity, I peeked ahead and did a quick Kindle search of Book 3, and the name Enderman doesn’t appear anywhere in that book…so it seems likely that this will remain unresolved and confusing.

There’s also a very random minor subplot where it’s implied that Nepsted’s son is now a professional midget wrestler. Unclear if this will amount to anything in Book 3.

In my writeup on Book 1, I made a big deal about the various literary Knights of Charlemagne characters who were mentioned, and what masks those figures might be paired with in the modern-day Knights’ ritual. Ultimately, not much attention is paid to this in Alliance, but it is revealed that Raymond Llewellyn/Happy Nepsted was Ganelon the Crafter (interestingly enough, Ganelon was the traitor to the Knights in the Song of Roland), and the mask associated with Ganelon is the horse. We also learn that Will’s grandfather Franklin acted as Orlando, the role traditionally assumed by the leader of the group.

The backstory on Henry Wallace seems to be more or less true to life. Frost fudges Wallace’s date of birth: Wallace was actually born in October 1888, but Frost says he was born in 1885, presumably so that Wallace and the fictional Thomas Greenwood can both be attending college at the same time and fit the book’s timeline. As expected, Frost makes reference to Wallace’s real-world affiliation with Theosophy (although Frost implies that FDR encouraged this pursuit, a dubious claim). Also, as far as I can tell, Wallace’s supposed trip to the Himalayas in 1944 is purely fictional. As the kids correctly note, Wallace missed out on becoming President by only three months: FDR died three months after Truman replaced Wallace as vice president, due to resistance against Wallace within the Democratic party because of his denunciation of segregation, his pro-Soviet sentiments, and his odd religious beliefs. (As an aside, right around the same time Frost was writing these books, Oliver Stone dedicated a good deal of positive attention to Wallace in his 2012 docuseries The Untold History of the United States, which is well worth watching.)

As hinted at in Book 1, Frost ties in Dave’s employer, the Hierarchy, with the Theosophical belief in the Hierarchy of the Masters (better known in Theosophy as the Ascended Masters, or the Great White Brotherhood—or occasionally, the White Lodge), a group of highly evolved supernatural beings residing in Shambhala, in the Himalayas (tying in all the references to Shambhala/Shangri-La in Book 1). All of this comes more or less from Helena Blavatsky.

Intriguingly enough, the atomic bomb also comes into play in the backstory. Keep in mind that Frost was simultaneously writing The Return with Lynch during this period. In the Paladin mythology, the idea seems to be that members of the Knights of Charlemagne infiltrated the highest levels of government and initiated the Manhattan Project, leading FDR to become concerned and dispatch Wallace to the Himalayas to consult with the Hierarchy of Masters. As Brooke correctly notes, Wallace was vocal post-WWII about his concerns regarding atomic weapons, and he pushed for the regulation of nuclear power. (Frost curiously does not mention that Wallace was also FDR’s liaison to the Manhattan Project.) Although the detonation of the atom bomb doesn’t seem to have given birth to supernatural entities as it does in Part 8 of The Return, it is implied that the creation of the bomb was influenced and encouraged by the Older Root Race, as such weapons would potentially hasten humanity’s self-destruction.

Dave, Will’s ally and protector in the Hierarchy, is absent for most of the book due to his being yanked into the Never-Was by the wendigo near the end of Book 1. He returns briefly near the end of Alliance to give Will his mission briefing for what will presumably be the main story for the third and final book: Will and his friends have to cross over to the Never-Was themselves and rescue Dave, so that Dave can contact the Hierarchy and warn them of an imminent invasion. (There’s a sort of double-whammy of narrative convenience here, where Will isn’t allowed to contact the Hierarchy himself because he’s only a Level Two Initiate, and Dave can’t contact the Hierarchy from inside the Never-Was—he can conveniently only contact Will due to “the unique nature of the Wayfarer-Client connection”).

Continued in next post due to character limit
 
Last edited:

Mr. Reindeer

White Lodge
Apr 13, 2022
775
1,740
Book 2 thoughts continued from prior post...

There are two big twists at the end of the book. The first is that Brooke has betrayed the Alliance, and perhaps has been working with the Knights the entire time. I assume I was supposed to be shocked and heartbroken, but I honestly found this a colossal relief because it meant that at least finally there is something interesting about Brooke. After having a good bantering rapport with Will in her first couple of chapters in Book 1, she became such a bland character, and it somehow gets even worse in Book 2. At the beginning of the book, Brooke has been essentially ignoring Will since the end of Book 1. Will is mooning over her and completely forlorn. This is all the more annoying because, realistically, their involvement in Book 1 lasted for all of four days, and since then she has been ghosting him for seven months without explanation. Seven months is a virtual lifetime in teenager time…get over it, dude! Eventually, Brooke seemingly overcomes her months-long cowardice and tells Will the reason: her rich parents forced her to stop talking to Will and she just subserviently went along with it. (WILL: “Do you always do what your parents tell you to?” BROOKE: “You don’t know him, Will. My father’s an ambassador, for God’s sake. He’s a force of nature.”) The parents apparently have a private security detail tracking her every movement and reporting back. But now she suddenly doesn’t care anymore, dammit!, and she reaffirms her love for him, ditching her parents’ security detail to partake in the group’s mission…but she’s still just such a wishy-washy character whose main characteristics are being hot-and-cold on Will and being scared. Granted, her fear is understandable from a realistic standpoint, but whereas Ajay is cowardly in a charming and character-specific way, Brooke is just whiny and unpleasant. It’s such a strange way to portray someone who is ostensibly the female lead in an adventure book targeted at kids. So, as I said, when she turned out to be a traitor, I was glad that at least she may express some new dimensions in Book 3.

The other big reveal is that the “Old Gentleman”—the traditionally appointed adult in charge of the senior class of Knights—is Will’s grandfather Franklin Greenwood, the second headmaster of the school who was thought to have died in 1995. Franklin and the Knights now have Will’s father Hugh Greenwood (Franklin’s son) back. It was Hugh’s research while a professor at the Center in the 1990s that made it possible to finally realize Abelson’s vision…although Hugh was working purely in the theoretical realm, and fled and went into hiding once he realized what the Knights planned to use his research for. For his part, Franklin insists that the Knights’ goal is as it’s always been: to better the world, to improve and save humanity.

Other odds & ends:

The book rather strangely begins with Lyle Ogilvy, the primary antagonist of Book 1, in a vegetative state, but growing taller and becoming stronger. His encounter with the wendigo in Book 1 is apparently altering him. At the end of the prior book, Lyle became a bit of a sympathetic figure…he’s a classist asshole, but the way he was used as a tool by Mr. Hobbes and the “Other Team” (ultimately being forced to let a Ride Along take control of his mind when he refused to kill Will) is horrifying, and Will near the end of Book 1 calls Lyle perhaps the biggest victim of all. Alliance at first seems to be setting up a bigger, badder Lyle (now with more wendigo!) for a return, but that fizzles out pretty quickly with Lyle’s death (whatever was growing inside him seemingly exploded out of him). The thing from inside Lyle seems to exist on the periphery of the rest of the book, with Will occasionally sensing its presence following him and briefly encountering it in a cave, but ultimately all this Lyle/wendigo buildup early in the book amounts to very little, and it’s unclear if it will take on more importance in the final book.

At the end of Alliance, Franklin claims that the Knights had expressly forbidden Lyle from attacking and trying to kill Will and his friends, directly contradicting what Lyle claimed at the end of Book 1. Obviously both Franklin and Lyle have reasons to tell self-serving lies, so the truth remains murky, although it is undeniable that someone placed a Ride Along on Lyle. If Franklin is telling the truth, this would at least explain why the Knights have been leaving Will and his friends alone for the past seven months and haven’t made any move against them, when they presumably had ample opportunity. They don’t want to kill Will and his friends: they want them to join the Knights.

The adult faculty members who played semi-prominent roles in Book 1 are all either entirely absent here or are reduced to walk-on cameo roles where they’re briefly mentioned but don’t even speak. The sole exception is Coach Ira Jericho—by far the most interesting member of the staff—who is training Will to use his physical abilities and pops up periodically to give advice.

For those interested in Frost’s writing process, it’s fascinating to compare the excerpt from Alliance that appears as a preview at the end of Book 1 with the final version as it appears in the second chapter (entitled “June”). Parts of the preview version, particularly the first chunk, are much more skeletal and purely functional, with Frost clearly having beefed up the prose later, adding much more detail, dialogue, comedy and color, as well as even some important story/mythology elements that weren’t present in the earlier draft.

There is a retcon that really annoys me, just because of its audacity and unnecessary nature: Will recalls that, during his first meeting with Nepsted, Nepsted told him, “I’m older than I look.” However, the fact is, Nepsted never said any such thing during either of their meetings in Book 1. It’s particularly frustrating because it doesn’t really add anything: Nepsted’s backstory would work perfectly fine without this tidbit, which seems to be Frost gilding the lily by making it look like he’d planted a clue in Book 1 that isn’t actually there.

There are several other seeming inconsistencies/errors in the book. Most of these are pretty niggling, but I make note of these primarily because three years later, Frost would publish The Secret History of Twin Peaks, a book which is still the subject of some intense debate as to whether its many discrepancies (with the original series and internally within its own pages) were intentional or not. Being able to document similar discrepancies in another Frost book released during the same period strikes me as valuable evidence to consider:
  • At the end of Book 1, there are said to be three Knights of Charlemagne from the senior class still on the loose: Todd Hodak and two nameless others. For the sake of simplicity, Frost now retcons this to two at-large members: Todd and Lyle (the latter of whom was not originally included in the ranks of the missing members since he was in the Center’s hospital, but apparently the Center has since moved him to a secret wing and his whereabouts have become mysterious).
  • In perhaps the most shocking discrepancy, Frost twice in the second chapter refers to Henry Wallace as FDR’s secretary of the interior. In later chapters, he correctly reverts to calling Wallace the secretary of agriculture. Given Frost’s deep interest in U.S. history and in FDR in particular, as well as his personal familial connection to FDR, it’s pretty surprising that he made this error and that it was never caught.
  • In another rather bewildering error, Will notes the “piercing blue eyes” of a man in a photo which has been repeatedly described as black-and-white.
  • Ajay refers to a photo which was taken in 1937 as being “over eighty-five years ago.” Math tells us that that would place the present-day of the story in at least 2022, when it is in fact meant to be 2013 (or thereabouts). Even more strangely, the earlier “preview” version of this portion which appears in Book 1 more accurately says the picture was taken “over seventy years ago.” Why would Frost change this to make it less accurate?
  • At one point in the third chapter, Will mentions to Elise that it’s 9:30, but then after a good chunk of time has passed (he’s gone to meet up with Brooke and then investigated Lyle’s escape from the hospital), it’s only 9:14.
  • Ajay says (in the chapter “Teotwawki”) that Cornish’s only surviving son Lemuel sold the castle to Franklin Greenwood in 1932, and Will adds, “True. Mr. Elliot told me that yesterday.” However, what Elliot actually told Will (in the chapter “Mr. Elliot”) was that Thomas Greenwood bought the castle just prior to World War I. (Furthermore, Franklin was only twelve years old in 1932, so he was unlikely to be entering into property contracts.)
  • There are also a few other slightly janky date associations in the backstory. In particular, it’s a bit suspect that the Knights of Charlemagne dinner with Henry Wallace in October 1937 is said to be a sendoff to “commemorate” the Knights’ (supposed) “senior trip” to Europe, but the staged airline crash of their return flight was seven months later in May 1938. That’s a long senior trip!
Frost takes an amusing dig at his own boomer generation, via Elise: “They’re retired, put out to pasture, watching the glaciers melt from a lame cruise ship like it’s some kind of halftime show, and this freakin’ generation still refuses to believe they’re not the center of the universe.”

Left ambiguous is what connection Haxley’s butler, Lemuel Clegg, may have to the man who originally built the Crag in 1870 (as well as building some of the connecting underground tunnels), Ian Lemuel Cornish. Clegg says that Lemuel is a “family name.”

A couple of curious passages involve an astrolabe which seems to be semi-sentient and wants Will to hold it (this is possibly a sinister entity, as “Mr. Elliot” tries to gift it to Will, and Will seems to realize that his draw to the object is potentially hazardous).

Frost keeps the cultural references to more of a minimum in this book, but as in Book 1, when they do occur, they’re inevitably from Frost’s generation, not Will’s. In particular, one bit involves all the kids except Brooke quoting “All Along the Watchtower” and arguing over whether the Dylan or Hendrix version is definitive.

In contrast to the first book, Alliance is very light on creatures, but there are some sentient tree-like things that transform into giant tumbleweeds and then into spider-type shapes to pursue our heroes.

It’s rather ridiculous that Nick doesn’t know what the word “meme” means (he thinks Ajay is talking about a mime). Even for all Nick’s exhaustingly moronic confusion of words and concepts, you’d think any sixteen-year-old in 2013 would know what a meme is.

The acknowledgements thank David Lynch for reasons that aren’t clear (although the book was published in 2014, smack dab in the middle of the period when the two men were writing The Return). Deepak Nayar also gets a thanks…his company Kintop Pictures, along with Reliance Entertainment (which also had Nayar on its board), had optioned the movie rights to the Paladin books.
 
Last edited:

MasterMastermnd

Waiting Room
Apr 12, 2022
390
573
Couldn't get into The Paladin Prophecy for the same reasons you've struggled with it, but knew there'd be some interesting ideas within so I really appreciate these write-ups.

It seems Frost writes like I do, as a trained screenwriter. I wrote many screenplays before I turned toward stories and novels. As such my first drafts still feel very much like a screenplay, just gotta have a foundation to build off of.
 

Mr. Reindeer

White Lodge
Apr 13, 2022
775
1,740
Couldn't get into The Paladin Prophecy for the same reasons you've struggled with it, but knew there'd be some interesting ideas within so I really appreciate these write-ups.
That's good to hear! I honestly was starting to wonder who I was even writing these for lol. It's become a weird mix of me reviewing the book and exploring the themes, but also processing the plot in a very spoilery way. I was starting to question if this was the best approach. But I'm glad it's working for someone anyway!
It seems Frost writes like I do, as a trained screenwriter. I wrote many screenplays before I turned toward stories and novels. As such my first drafts still feel very much like a screenplay, just gotta have a foundation to build off of.
The great Simpsons writer John Swartzwelder described a similar process as well: "Since writing is very hard and rewriting is comparatively easy and rather fun, I always write my scripts all the way through as fast as I can, the first day, if possible, putting in crap jokes and pattern dialogue—“Homer, I don’t want you to do that.” “Then I won’t do it.” Then the next day, when I get up, the script’s been written. It’s lousy, but it’s a script. The hard part is done. It’s like a crappy little elf has snuck into my office and badly done all my work for me, and then left with a tip of his crappy hat. All I have to do from that point on is fix it. So I’ve taken a very hard job, writing, and turned it into an easy one, rewriting, overnight."
 

AXX°N N.

Waiting Room
Apr 14, 2022
283
648
The great Simpsons writer John Swartzwelder described a similar process as well: "Since writing is very hard and rewriting is comparatively easy and rather fun, I always write my scripts all the way through as fast as I can, the first day, if possible, putting in crap jokes and pattern dialogue—“Homer, I don’t want you to do that.” “Then I won’t do it.” Then the next day, when I get up, the script’s been written. It’s lousy, but it’s a script. The hard part is done. It’s like a crappy little elf has snuck into my office and badly done all my work for me, and then left with a tip of his crappy hat. All I have to do from that point on is fix it. So I’ve taken a very hard job, writing, and turned it into an easy one, rewriting, overnight."
You know, I've heard this bit of wisdom before but this is such an excellent version. I've been struggling somewhat with some writing of my own lately and I'm actually excited to get up tomorrow and be a bit more radical (or lazy?) with it! Perhaps this is the writer's version of a maxim that many an engineer have espoused, that much of the greatest and most productive technological innovations are paradoxically motivated by the universal human tendency toward laziness, or more generously, the path of least resistance.
 

Dom

White Lodge
Jul 10, 2022
693
690
When I was a 'young adult', I simply grew out of children's books and read adult books. The 'Young Adult' market baffles me, frankly. It seems like little more than a (very successful) marketing ploy. I've read a few so-called 'Young Adult' books and some are just kids' books and some are adult books with a load of hoary old clichés chucked in with some soap opera elements that kids younger teens might not be mature enough to recognise as merely badly written adult fiction. And when you get to stuff written by the likes of Philip Pullman, he writes decent adult fantasy novels that youngsters can read. I adore his Sally Lockhart melodramas.
 

Mr. Reindeer

White Lodge
Apr 13, 2022
775
1,740
When I was a 'young adult', I simply grew out of children's books and read adult books.
Same. I hate to be a snob, but I was reading the classics pretty young, so there was never really any period where YA books were an appealing prospect. Although I suppose some stuff that I read, like Treasure Island or Tom Sawyer, might be viewed as the YA fiction of its day. Just not the YA fiction of my day. I did read all the Hardy Boys books (and I know Frost did as well), so I guess I can chalk that up as a guilty YA pleasure. (You can even see The Secret of the Old Mill in Sonny Jim's room in The Return!)
 
Last edited:

Dom

White Lodge
Jul 10, 2022
693
690
Same. I hate to be a snob, but I was reading the classics pretty young, so there was never really any period where YA books were an appealing prospect.
Yeah, I don't get it. I was reading the likes of Isaac Asimov (my first book was Foundation) at ten. I'm really glad I never made too big a deal of asking my parents many questions about what I was reading when I was young. Like all young readers of grown up books, I simply 'read past' things I didn't understand or looked words up in the dictionary. Rereading Asimov's The Robots of Dawn recently, I had a horrific image of my younger self asking: 'Dad! What's an orgasm?' or 'Mum, what's a vibrator?' Thank God that never happened!! I'd forgotten there was all that stuff in Asimov's 1980s' books! He turned into a bit of a dirty old man later on! Naughty Isaac! :D I really enjoyed reading them all again in my 40s. Asimov and Clarke in particular have been omnipresent in my life.

Although I suppose some stuff that I read, like Treasure Island or Tom Sawyer, might be viewed as the YA fiction of its day. Just not the YA fiction of my day.
I think the likes of Stevenson and Twain simply wrote books with mass appeal. In an era without 'education experts' and 'education psychologists', there was simply no need for targeting specific demographics in a particular way in order to direct their attention to specific topics and views. I find it all a bit patronising and divisive, frankly. I often just looked at my parents' (heaving) bookshelves and found books I'd heard about or liked sound of the titles. That's how I came to read James Thurber (the book said 'fables' and I liked the pictures) and Robert Graves. I'd heard of the TV show I Claudius, but I was told it was 'unsuitable', so I swiped the book and read it instead! I did that sort of thing quite a lot! :D It's how I came to read John Le Carré, Frederick Forsyth, George Orwell and many others!

I'm a fanatical reader. While I was a film and 'telefantasy' nut back in my teens to my mid 20s, I've been much more likely to be found reading books since my late 20s. My increasing disinterest in cinema actually caused a bit of a rift with a few of my old film school friends, who kind of took it personally that I simply couldn't be part of their conversations anymore. Thing is, I edit video for a living and have done for about 27 years. Going to the cinema after spending the whole day in front of a screen simply isn't relaxing for me. In my London days, I was happy to watch a (Serling era) Twilight Zone episode over dinner, then pick up my book. Apart from frequently having a bit of a headache at the end of a day, I don't want to spend a lot of money watching a film and not appreciating it. I'd rather pick up a book and lie down in the quiet; maybe put on a Blu-ray or two at home over the weekend.

I read pretty much anything from classics to popular series. The other day, I found half a dozen Vince Flynn books in a charity shop, unread, for £1 each and raced through them. They were like 'reading a movie', only with more detail than a film can manage. That was more fun than watching an action movie, frankly. I also love Alexandre Dumas - great, great adventure and quite wildly romantic. Full of literary and classical allusions too. The Robin Buss unexpurgated translation of The Count of Monte Cristo is one of my all time favourite books.

I did read all the Hardy Boys books (and I know Frost did as well), so I guess I can chalk that up as a guilty YA pleasure. (You can even see The Secret of the Old Mill in Sonny Jim's room in The Return!)

I considered The Hardy Boys 'older children's' books back in the day, rather than 'young adult.' I started out with Enid Blyton when I was little - The Secret Seven, the Famous Five and her other detective and fantasy books and series. Later - I was always mocked for this - I read a lot of Nancy Drew. So shoot me! :D As a boy, I liked reading about female characters and their world view! I liked Nancy Drew and her gang! I read The Hardy Boys too, obviously. The Three Investigators resulted in me seeking out movies made by the bloke they would talk to at the start of the books: some guy called 'Alfred Hitchcock!' I can't believe modern reprints remove his name from the stories! I also started on Sherlock Holmes young. I was nine when the Jeremy Brett TV series started, so I read the books alongside them.

It actually shocks me, given how many books are on the shelves of my local supermarket and the overwhelming piles of books on Amazon, how many people don't ever read. I couldn't imagine not ever reading.
 

Mr. Reindeer

White Lodge
Apr 13, 2022
775
1,740
BOOK 3: ROGUE

Whereas the prior two books fit into a sort of X-Files type conspiracy genre, this one is more straight fantasy, taking place largely in the mythical Never-Was, an exotic realm populated by all sorts of threatening, hideous creatures. The Never-Was started out as a completely barren prison dimension where the Hierarchy banished the Older Root Race (think the Phantom Zone in Superman), but by this point, the prisoners have manufactured an entire artificial world for themselves, filled with air-polluting factories and brutish monster slaves.

Due to this focus on the more otherworldly aspects of the series, all the human-world conspiracy stuff involving the Knights of Charlemagne, the Paladin Prophecy, etc., takes a back seat after the first few chapters, and ends up being curiously unresolved by the end of the series. (The word “Paladin” only appears eight times in this book.) Because of this, this novel lends itself to analysis less so than most of Frost’s other books. It’s largely action-based, reading almost like an action movie screenplay broken down into prose. The wrap-up feels very much in the vein of the green glove fight from Part 17 of The Return, but presented unironically.

I’ve read some complaints online that Will is a “Gary Sue” (which is, I guess, the male equivalent of a Mary Sue) because he has so many superpowers, and that’s probably a fair criticism. Added to all his other powers from the first two books, he can now also project images, as well as projecting “thought-forms” that can briefly interact with physical matter, which he uses to perform feats of strength like bending the bars on a prison cell. Meanwhile, because of the concentrated use of his mental talents, Ajay’s head is growing larger, a mutation which worries him, although this is never really dealt with by the end of the book (hope he’s OK). Ajay also joins Will and Elise in their ability to communicate psychically. Elise now has echolocation (like a dolphin!) in addition to her other abilities. Nick’s powers still remain exactly the same through all three books (basically, he’s an incredibly skilled gymnast).

One of the more fun and entertaining aspects of this book is the way Frost uses the kids’ various powers, as they continue to adapt and improve upon their abilities. By this point, it really is a superhero story, and one can feel the influence of those Fantastic Four comics Frost read as a kid, both in the creative applications of their powers to various situations as well as in their “dysfunctional family” bantering style of communicating. Some of the more fun uses of their powers include: Ajay psychically broadcasting a “GPS” interface to Will, based on his photographic memory of the overhead shots his drone took, and Will overlaying that with his own “Grid” scan of the area; Elise using her sonic vocalization powers to project the sound of footsteps in the opposite direction to distract their enemies (leave it to Elise to find a cool use for ventriloquism!); and Will psychically communicating with the vines wrapped around a temple, persuading the vines to crush the building.

We learn that the kids actually have DNA from the Older Root Race, which is what gives them their powers…and that Franklin spliced Will’s DNA at the fertility clinic without Will’s father knowing. When his dad found out, he left the Center and went into hiding. (Speaking of the Older Root Race, they have been alternately referred to throughout the books as the “Old Ones,” “the Other Side,” and now, in this book, as “the Makers”…a name reminiscent of one of the designations given to the sandworm in Frank Herbert’s Dune, as well as David Lynch’s film adaptation.)

These kids have also developed some pretty ridiculous battle skills, using weapons from hatchets to crossbows to a liquid nitrogen dispenser built by Ajay, which can freeze enemies, as well as forming an icy bridge over a river by flash-freezing it (I’m fairly certain the physics of this are dubious at best). Where did they learn this stuff?!

Coach Jericho plays a large role in the book, fully expanding to main character status after playing smaller roles in the first two novels—acting as the fifth, and only adult, member of the group. Unfortunately, some of his dialogue lapses into the same snarkiness as the kid characters, which doesn’t feel consistent with his character from the first two books to me. But overall, he’s a welcome presence, lending a spiritual element to the book in a way slightly reminiscent of Hawk in The Return. We get to see him repeatedly turn into not only a bear (as in Book 1) but also an otter (!). We also get some nice backstory, where he reveals that he has been acting as a sort of sentinel guarding humanity from the Cahokia ruins and protecting against anything that might emerge from there…a role that his family has fulfilled for centuries, although there was a lapse of two generations due to his people being removed from their land by the white man; so he had to seek out a shaman mentor and relearn his people’s ways, when he decided to reconnect with his lost culture. I also love the way that the crusty Coach Jericho immediately has respect for Elise, my favorite of the kids. There is also a nice moment where Will asks Jericho if he is omniscient. Jericho laughs and says, “Kid, I’m just the messenger. Don’t mistake me for the message.” Although, I have to say, given how much of a beating Jericho takes in bear form throughout the book, I really felt he should have died. It seems like the book is going in that direction, but ultimately he just keeps bouncing back, which makes the whole proceeding feel a bit like a cartoon with no real stakes.

A major theme in the book is Will learning to trust his intuition. In keeping with this theme, this book replaces Dad’s Rules for Living with Will’s Rules for Living, reflecting an evolution in Will’s character as he starts forming his own path rather than just following what his father had set out for him. The ability to communicate simple but important messages like this to readers who are at a formative stage of their development is undeniably a valuable aspect of this whole YA book thing, and presumably a big part of the reason Frost chose to engage with this genre. (Rogue is dedicated to Frost’s son Travis, who was twelve when this book was published.) Similarly, one of the few Frostian philosophical digressions in the book contains some good advice for those suffering an existential crisis: Ajay speculates on the idea that the whole universe could be a hologram, and refers to the Lakota myth of the creator-spirit Inyan. Coach Jericho replies that even if the world is only a projection or the construct of a god, “Nothing means anything. So we may as well act as if it does. […] It matters to us. It matters right now.” This idea of remaining present in the moment is also one of the recurring themes in the rules Will’s dad left him, and in general is good advice that all of us need to be reminded of sometimes—teenagers in particular.

In the opening chapters, Franklin Greenwood gives us some more backstory on the Cornish and Greenwood families and the history of the Crag (the castle on campus) and the tunnels below. As in Book 2, this backstory continues to be increasingly convoluted and contradictory. Book 1 told us that Franklin bought the Crag from Ian Cornish. Book 2 had two contradictory backstories: that Thomas Greenwood (Franklin’s father) bought the Crag just prior to WWI, and that Franklin bought it from Lemuel Cornish (Ian’s son) in 1932 (Franklin would have been just twelve then). In Book 3, according to Franklin, Thomas bought the Crag when Franklin was a toddler…so, in the early 1920s, contradicting both of the dates previously given.

Franklin reveals that Ian Cornish built the Crag after the Civil War out of anguish for losing his oldest son, and guilt about the many other young men who had died due to the munitions Cornish contributed to the war effort. Something was calling out to him from below ground (it was the sentient astrolabe from the previous book, which is revealed to have a remnant of consciousness from the Makers embedded in it, like a beacon). Seeking redemption, Cornish became convinced of his purpose to dig underground and discover what was down there. Later in life, Cornish went insane and ended up killing himself, believing that accessing the Cahokia ruins was a colossal mistake in judgment. (As hinted at in the prior book, Cornish named the underground city “Cahokia” because he believed that it was linked to the real-world ruins in Illinois.) But by that point it was too late, as he had alerted his esteemed friends back in New England about the find: fellow members of the Knights of Charlemagne. Although a member of the Knights himself, Cornish viewed it as purely a social fraternity and remained ignorant of its more sinister agenda. Ian’s son Lemuel was a much more pragmatic amoral guy than his father, and worked willingly with the Knights to exploit Cahokia’s possibilities. Again, it’s not quite clear when precisely Lemuel sold the Crag to the Greenwoods—or, for that matter why he would sell a property that had such potential for profit and power, which he clearly desired—but he never revealed the secret of the underground city to Thomas Greenwood, the founder and first headmaster of the Center, whom Lemuel viewed as too much of a goodie two-shoes to appreciate the potential. Thomas’s son Franklin was a different story, and when Franklin was only twelve, Lemuel (who was inexplicably seemingly still just hanging out on the property a decade after selling it) recognized Franklin as a kindred spirit and began taking him down to the city. Eventually, in the later 1930s, Lemuel and Franklin brought Dr. Joseph Abelson (our beloved former Nazi eugenicist) into their circle of trust (and we learn that the decrepit Abelson is still alive in the present day—immortality being one of the benefits of their exploitation of the Makers’ technology).

It’s rather strange that after revealing Brooke as a traitor at the end of Book 2, Frost basically glosses over the other characters’ reactions to this revelation. You’d think that there would be a lot of juicy emotional territory to cover there: feelings of betrayal, anger, sadness, etc.…but their only real reactions are in the form of snarky comments about how awful Brooke is. To be fair, Brooke is awful…but they all liked and trusted her previously, and it would have been nice to see them being a bit more hurt. As it is, her betrayal feels more like a plot device than anything that has real emotional resonance. There are a couple of times here where the characters witness Brooke being a condescending bitch or throwing a hissy fit, and they just sort of roll their eyes and comment, “Same old Brooke.” Except that we never saw Brooke acting that way in the first two books! She was a bland character, but she never seemed particularly entitled or nasty, so it’s bizarre that the characters act like she was always this way (and if she had been, why did they like and trust her to begin with?). Likewise, when Elise punches Brooke, she chalks it up to “Two years of repressed rage,” but we didn’t get a sense in the prior two books that Elise held any real animosity toward Brooke before her betrayal.

We’re also never given any insight into Brooke’s motivations besides the fact that she grew up in a privileged family with a dad who was a member of the Knights, and…the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, I guess? She does express remorse toward the end, and saves Elise and Ajay’s lives with her healing ability, so that’s nice. But she remains a maddeningly enigmatic and underdeveloped character, and her attitude throughout this book feels inconsistent with the prior two volumes.

Which brings me to a broader reflection on Frost’s books, now that I’m wrapping up this read-through…

Frost has characterized himself as a humanist first and foremost (Conversations with Mark Frost pages 279-280): “What interests me is the interior lives and moral dilemmas, jeopardies, and development of human beings, couched in a narrative framework. I don’t really love plot for plot’s sake. […] What then becomes the focus is, ‘What’s in this story and this particular set of people that can help illuminate being human?’” I’m not sure that I’d fully agree with his self-assessment of his work, based on the eleven books of his I’ve now read (in addition to The Secret History of Twin Peaks and The Final Dossier, which I’ve previously read multiple times). It strikes me that Frost is much more interested in ideas than people. While there are certainly moments in his books where I can see that humanism come through (the Log Lady’s eulogy for Robert Jacoby in Secret History immediately springs to mind, as well as his treatments of Jack Sparks and Alexander Sparks in The Six Messiahs), by and large, it seems to me that Frost’s writing is at its most engaging and enthusiastic when using story and character as a means to explore more macro big-picture concepts, such as history, sociology, philosophy, mystery, spiritualism, etc. There often seems to be a certain distance between Frost’s characters and the reader in a way that’s difficult to explain…the treatment of the characters feels a bit clinical. Interestingly, it’s the real people in Frost’s nonfiction books—particularly the golf books—for whom I felt Frost showed the most warmth and connection, moreso than most of his fictional characters. Presumably, having immersed himself in research, Frost felt he had truly gotten to know Francis Ouimet, Bobby Jones, etc.…and clearly, he admires them a great deal, which can’t help but come through in the prose.

Which brings me to another point: by and large, Frost tends to write about exceptionally gifted people. The Paladin Prophecy books are basically about a group of teenage superheroes. All the golf books, and the baseball one, are obviously about athletes at the absolute peak of prowess in their sports. Twice in the Paladin books, Frost has a character pontificate on the “tip of the spear” theory: the idea that the course of human history tends to be charted not by the masses, but by a select few truly exceptional people in leadership roles (headmaster Rourke lectures on this in Book 1, and the morally dubious Franklin Greenwood again speaks on it in Book 3, leaving the reader unsure how much weight Frost actually intends to give to this idea…I’m certain that Frost comes down on the side of “eugenics bad,” but via Rourke, he actually seems to be making a pretty convincing argument in favor of eugenics!). Granted, Frost ends the final Paladin book with a reminder that the content of a person’s character is more important than their innate abilities, and that the way one chooses to use one’s skills is more important than the skills themselves. Likewise, in the golf books, Frost frequently praises the protagonists not only for their athletic brilliance but also for their humanity. Still, the fact is unavoidable that Frost seems drawn to characters who have exceptional abilities. This seems to me another big distinction that can be drawn between Frost and Lynch, who almost always focuses on characters who are completely unexceptional: everymen, underdogs, or just plain fuckups (Henry in Eraserhead, Diane Selwyn in Mulholland Drive, Alvin Straight, Sailor Ripley, etc. etc.). In this way, Dale Cooper is perhaps a much more Frostian character than a Lynchian one at his core.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m by and large just not crazy about books where the main characters are teens (with some noteworthy exceptions of course). I think the reason these books often don’t appeal to me is that most adult writers tend to write teens based on shallow stereotypes moreso than actual memories of the rich interior life they themselves had at that age. While I like Ajay and Elise as characters because of their personalities and quirks, I never really buy them as three-dimensional people. They feel less fleshed-out than the characters in Frost’s adult fiction books like The Second Objective and Before I Wake. This inevitably causes me to make mental comparisons to Twin Peaks, where teen characters like Audrey and Laura and Bobby and even Donna feel so multidimensional and psychologically real, even if in an elevated slightly unnatural campy way at times.

As one example: It’s rather alarming that Will seems pretty indifferent about the unknown fates of his parents. We’re told in Book 1 that his parents are literally the only friends he’s had for the first fifteen years of his life; yet after learning at the end of Book 1 that his father is alive and imprisoned by the Knights, Will makes no effort to find him. He catches one glimpse of his dad at the end of Book 2, then never sees him again. Book 3 ends with him writing a letter to his dad (which is really just a journaling exercise, since he has no idea where to send it), but he still doesn’t seem to be making any efforts whatsoever to actually locate his father, and seems curiously unbothered about the whole thing. Will’s mother, who may or may not be alive, isn’t even mentioned at all in Book 3.

Frost introduces a little bit of moral ambiguity in the early chapters, having Will question whether the Older Root Race is more benevolent than he has been led to believe, and if Dave and the Hierarchy are the real problem, coddling humanity and preventing true growth and maturity. Unfortunately, as is common in this kind of genre fare, that ambiguity is quickly abandoned, and of course the bad guys and good guys are clear-cut, and the bad guys were just trying to mislead/confuse Will.

One of the more interesting genre concepts in the book comes from a passage where Will psychically connects with some sentient flower-creatures. Ajay mentions a theory from Neolithic cultures that plants can communicate on a “spiritual frequency” and may have a collective consciousness (which proves to be true, at least of the manufactured plants in the Never-Was).

The prior book seemed to be giving the villainous Mr. Hobbes a little depth, implying that he was somewhat sympathetic toward his former classmate Happy Nepsted, and similarly was understanding toward Will’s feelings of anger and resentment. However, any depth that was hinted at vanishes in Book 3 where he is once again a straight villain, and we’re frustratingly left without any sense at all of Hobbes’s personality or his feelings towards what’s happened to him. In fact, Hobbes is mostly seen from afar and only has one line of dialogue in the entire book: “Hello, Will.”

In an echo of one of the more unpleasant aspects of the Frost-scripted Fantastic Four movie, there is a female villain in Books 2 and 3 of Paladin who has invisibility powers which of course require her to be constantly naked, to the delight of Nick and Ajay.

Continued in next post due to character limit
 
Last edited:

Mr. Reindeer

White Lodge
Apr 13, 2022
775
1,740
Book 3 thoughts continued from prior post...

While the first book prominently featured the school and faculty (one is perhaps reminded of a certain other YA series that centers around a school), Frost makes the somewhat unexpected choice to set Books 2 and 3 in summer, when school is not in session. Therefore, the faculty really fades into the background after Book 1. In Rogue, other than Coach Jericho, none of the faculty appears. Headmaster Rourke, Dr. Kujawa and Professor Sangren are briefly mentioned; Dan McBride, who played a pretty big role in Book 1, has not been mentioned at all in Books 2 or 3; Professor Geist is not mentioned in Book 3; Dr. Robbins, who also played a pretty major role in Book 1, also doesn’t get so much as a mention in Rogue. Eloni and his gang of Samoan drivers/security also are not mentioned. (It is revealed that Rourke and the Center apparently had no knowledge of what the Knights were up to, absolving them of any wrongdoing.)

Also conspicuous in his absence is Stan Haxley, who lives in the Crag. Since he was revealed as a front for Franklin Greenwood at the end of the prior book, he basically disappears entirely, with only a brief mention in the final chapter revealing that he vanished along with the other Knights-adjacent characters once the conspiracy was exposed. Left unresolved is what exactly happened to Ronnie Murso (the kid who lived in Will’s dorm room prior to him, and disappeared along with his dad), and what role Haxley played in it.

Happy Nepsted, who played such a major role in Alliance, is also completely absent. However, we do meet his son Henry (the professional midget wrestler!) whom Will and company enlist to help in their plan…although weirdly, he never actually does help, and it’s not clear what his function was supposed to be. They recruit him to wait near where their portal is supposed to open when they return from the Never-Was, in order to help them fight any enemies who might show up…but since they return ten days later than expected due to the vagaries of interdimensional travel, his services seemingly aren’t required. Will does mention in his closing “letter” that they reunited Happy and Henry, so that’s nice.

Although he doesn’t play much of a role in the story, we learn that butler Lemuel Clegg is actually Franklin’s illegitimate son, named for Franklin’s mentor Lemuel Cornish.

Frost never comes back to the weird bit from the first book, where he implied that the seemingly benign real-world Triangle fraternity was a sinister Freemason-type organization.

Franklin says that the Knights of Charlemagne are over six hundred years old, which seems like a rather arbitrary number. That would place their founding in the 1400s or so. Charlemagne lived in the 8th and 9th centuries, so if the group directly descended from his knights, it would be much older than Franklin indicates.

The wendigo/Lyle stuff from Alliance never pays off at all.

Once again, Frost does his best to integrate trendy teen buzz words like “bi-yatch” and “busted” into the dialogue, and it feels as cringy and unnatural as in the prior books.

The very brief excerpt that appears in the back of Book 2 as a preview for Rogue is actually entirely different from what ended up in the published version of Book 3. It’s a version of the scene where Will uses the Carver to open the portal into the Never-Was, and at the end of the scene, Coach Jericho surprisingly shows up to join them. In the final version, this moment is much more action-packed and dynamic, with all Will’s friends battling their enemies while Will struggles to open the portal in the midst of the conflict, and Coach Jericho is already very much a part of their mission.

In a little tie-in to Frost’s nonfiction book Game Six, Boston Townie Nick exclaims, “What in the name of Carl Yastrzemski was that?”

Frost (via Nick) lifts the “knockers” gag from Young Frankenstein. Once again, if you’re gonna steal, steal from the best…

Coach Jericho twice shouts the word “Meanwhile” to remind the distracted kids that they’re under attack by enemies. The use of “Meanwhile” as a standalone sentence inevitably reminds me of Laura Palmer.

Apparently, Wayfarers (the members of the Hierarchy who supervise new recruits) get to choose what super-sexy car model they want to drive. Dave’s Plymouth Prowler (produced from 1997 to 2002) makes its return, after being destroyed in Book 1, and you can see the 007 influence from Frost’s youth, with the Goldfinger-esque device that shoots liquid ice out of the front of the car. As with Ajay’s liquid nitrogen dispenser, I question the physics of the liquid ice guns forming a “thick layer of ice over [the villains’] heads about the width of a two-lane road” that Dave can drive on. Again, there’s a very cartoonish quality to all of this.

There are again several errors throughout this book, some of which are embarrassingly sloppy. While I hate to be the nitpicker guy (like that kid on The Simpsons saying “I really hope somebody got fired for that blunder”), I can’t help it: I notice this kind of stuff, and it drives me crazy. If I catch this stuff on one casual read-through, why didn’t the “editor extraordinaire” whom Frost mentions in the acknowledgements, who is paid for this kind of thing? So, with all apologies if I come across as a pedantic dick, here are the mistakes I caught that annoyed me:
  • In the most egregious and aggravating error, Ajay in Chapter Two meets Coach Jericho for ostensibly the first time (NICK: “Ajay, Coach. Coach, Ajay.” AJAY: “I haven’t had the pleasure.” JERICHO: “I assume that’s why he introduced us.”). However, in the very next chapter, we see a flashback that takes place two months earlier where Ajay and Jericho meet as the group is hatching their plan (AJAY: “I realize that you’re the track coach here and everything, but if you don’t mind my asking, sir, who are you?”). Come on, editor! Did you even read the book?
  • Will shows Nepsted’s son Henry a photo from the 1960s of Nepsted, his wife, and baby Henry. But in Alliance, Nepsted said he left Flagstaff before Henry was born.
  • Ajay says that Lemuel Clegg brings him his dinner at 7pm, but then we later see Lemuel awkwardly lingering and watching Ajay eat at 8:10. Are we to believe that it takes Ajay seventy minutes to eat a sandwich?!
  • The story takes place on August 7: roughly two months after the events of Alliance, which was set in June. Throughout the book, Frost is inconsistent about how much time has passed since Alliance, at various points stating it as six weeks (Chapter Two), two months (Chapter Three), four months (Chapter Thirteen), and five months (Chapter Sixteen)!
  • In Chapter Three, there are two references to a “Raymond.” Although Raymond was Nepsted’s birth name in Book 2, these passages don’t seem to be referring to him. It seems like Frost meant to refer to Franklin Greenwood, so the sudden references to a Raymond who isn’t mentioned anywhere else in this book are jarring and perplexing.
  • In Chapter Thirteen, Ajay uses a remote control to guide his drone. But if walkie-talkies and other such wireless transmission devices don’t work in the Never-Was (as has been established), why would a remote control work?
In conclusion, thanks to those of you who have patiently indulged me during this read-through of Frost’s books, and thanks to Mark himself for some fun and overall enjoyable and thought-provoking work! I’ve followed him on Twitter for years and have read/watched/listened to countless interviews with him, but I feel I have a better sense of him as a person and an artist now after having read his books. I do intend to do a Hill Street Blues rewatch over the next few months to cap this off, so stay tuned (and please join in if you have the DVDs!).
 
Last edited:
Top