By Tim Sullivan
SUZY McKEE CHARNAS' The Bronze King (Houghton Mifflin, $12.95; ages 10-up) is the charming story of a 14-year-old girl who discovers why a statue in Central Park is missing. The theft turns out to be the work of an evil kraken, a monster who lives in the subway. In league with a teenage gang -- The Princes of Darkness -- the kraken does its dirty work all over New York as a prelude to gobbling up the whole world.
It falls upon our heroine to save us all. She becomes the aide of a magician, Paavo Latvela, who appears in the form of a street violinist, a shabby old man who chain-smokes and knows Tina's grandmother. The unlikely trio are joined by Joel Weschler, a handsome but bitter boy who is captured and blinded by the kraken.
Curiously, the realistic urban setting strengthens the sense of awe and myh. Indeed, the fantasy elements seem to grow naturally from the streets and the subway. Charnas provides us with a wealth of gritty detail that make young Tina's rite of passage all the more moving in that there are no handsome princes, no ancient talismans, no white knights on chargers. Something far more important is discovered by the end of The Bronze King. Tina learns about love, commitment and compassion towards those unfortunate souls who wander Manhattan's streets.
Writing in a tough, no-nonsense style that perfectly evokes the book's big city backdrop, Charnas pulls off an extraordinary climax. The final confrontation is somewhat predictable, but it's presented with ,elan and is excitingly paced.
Marooned in Space
PATRICIA A. McKILLIP's new book, The Moon and the Face (AtheneumArgo, $10.95; ages 10-up), despite some pseudo-poetic maundering, is a sincere story, featuring some reasonably well- rounded characters and an engaging alien. The heroine Kyreol meets this intelligent furball when she is marooned on one of the moons of her planet, en route to observe cultures on an alien world. Meanwhile her dad is dying back home, and her boyfriend Terje the hunter remains with him while the old man dreams of his daughter's dilemma. It's a sequel to Moon-Flash, McKillip's last young adult novel. In that story, Terje and Kyreol journeyed down the river from their vaguely African village to a space-roving culture on the same planet, Riverworld (with no apologies to Philip Jos,e Farmer). There is little sense of the culture on display here, other than a lot of verbiage about dreams set off in italics.
Like The Bronze King, the young woman Kyreol undergoes a rite of passage. She is leaving her family and her boyfriend for the mysteries of alien worlds. Unfortunately, the reader only gets to visit one other tatty moon, with a standard deserted alien city and an alien who -- by sheer coincidence -- just happens toranded there like Kyreol. At first it appears that the hairy creature might be a survivor of some catastrophe in the distant past, but it seems to have come from another planet entirely. Perhaps we'll find out where in the third installment of the series.
If there is another book, one can only hope that it is closer to the quality of The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, McKillip's 1974 World Fantasy Award winning novel. Nevertheless, The Moon and the Face does express a quiet humanism that is at times quite affecting.
Goblins and Glasses
THERE IS a moral of a different sort in William F. Buckley's (yes, that William F. Buckley) The Temptation of Wilfred Malachey (Goblin Tales, $10.95; ages 10-up). Wilfred, the son of a failed novelist, wins a scholarship to an upper-crust private school, Brookfield Academy. Embarrassed by his lack of mad money, Wilfred takes to stealing from his classmates. Ultimately, he attempts to use the school's computer to enrich himself by $1 million. His nefarious plan is short-circuited by the school's computer, a mainframe IBM which is controlled by a goblin who calls himself Omegagod. Omegagod will either grant your wishes or kill you.
It is probably not giving much away to say that Wilfred is alive at the end of this nicely illustrated (John Gurney) book. It is somewhat disturbing, however, that Wilfred does not get his comeuppance for stealing. His wish is granted, and he is allowed to return the stolen money anonymously -- or so Wilfred promises. This seems an odd sort of message for a children's story. Buckley subversively tells kids that it's really all right to take what doesn't belong to you, as long as you are not caught.
All considerations of moral purpose aside -- though it is, admittedly, this reviewer's belief that the authors of children's books have taken on an extra responsibility that adult authors need not concern themselves with -- there is some good writing in The Temptation of Wilfred Malachey. The passages on dormitory life at Brookfield are particularly well-handled, and so are the scenes wherein Wilfred sneaks into the computer room and figures out how to use the Omegagod disk.
Unfortunately, the fantasy element seems gratuitous, Unlike Charnas, Buckley is ill-at- ease with the juxtaposition of his somewhat rarefied milieu of upper-class boarding school and a rampant goblin inhabiting a computer. Bizzare forces in computers are an overly familiar theme in juvenile and young adult fiction these days, and this beautifully designed book adds little to the canon.
Another current offering of this colorful children's series from Workman is Ann Beattie's Spectacles (Goblin Tales, $10.95; ages 10-up). The glasses in question belong to a little girl's great grandmother. The generation gap is bridged when the little girl Alison puts them on and -- presto! -- is able to peer through time and see her great grandma on the day of great grandpa's proposal. It's a sweet little book, exquisitely illustrated by Winslow Pels, written with whimsy and charitable intent.