Pendragon: The Merchant of Death

Reviewed: November 7, 2003
By: D.J. MacHale
Publisher: Aladdin Paperbacks
374 pages, $8.99

The Pendragon series for teenage readers has one serious drawback for me, and that’s the hero’s surname. “Pendragon” conjures up images of Camelot and Excalibur. Somehow, “Bobby” just isn’t the first name of someone who owns that surname. It made me look for something that wasn’t there.

Mind you, what is there is pretty good stuff for a young adult adventure novel. In a move that may sound a little familiar, 14 year old Bobby Pendragon has been raised all his life to think of himself as a normal American kid. In fact, the might everything changes he has only two things on his mind: doing well at the big basketball game that night, and Courtney Chetwynde.

After the bombshell that Courtney drops on him right on his front doorstep, Bobby really isn’t all that interested in basketball, nor in having his Uncle Press turn up in the middle of their first serious kiss.

“Not quite ready to leave the world” would probably describe Bobby’s thoughts at that moment, but almost the next thing he knows that’s just what’s happening. Press is carrying him across town on his motorcycle, they’re being accosted by a police officer who doesn’t look quite right and then they’re travelling through something called a “flume” and walking out of a cave on another world.

Bobby’s just jumped across dimensions, entered another reality, and begun the first phase of his on-the-job training as a Traveller.

Travellers are born, not made, and it seems they are placed with surrogate parents on the various worlds of the crosstime continuum until it is time to activate them. At that point just about every trace of them is supposed to disappear.

This might work on some of the worlds, but it doesn’t seem to on Earth. In spite of the fact that Bobby’s parents, house and every written trace of them vanishes on that night, there’s a policeman who refuses to forget. And Courtney won’t forget. And neither will Bobby’s best friend, Mark.

Mark has a strange dream, one that leaves behind an artifact, and not long after that, his new ring begins delivering mail, handwritten scrolls which contain most of the text of this book. Bobby’s not only allowed, but encouraged, to write down his adventures and send them back to a special person. While most of the story is his, we do spend several chapters with Mark and Courtney, getting their reaction to all of the goings on in Denduron.

Bobby is there with Press to prevent a disaster from taking place and to right a great wrong, the enslavement of the Milago people by the Bedoowan. He almost gets the priority order of the two missions mixed up and almost causes a disaster.

On Denduron he meets another recently activated Traveller, a young woman named Loor. She has amazing fighting skills, and Bobby feels pretty pathetic next to her. It takes him quite a while to accept his new situation and to figure out what he has to contribute to this assignment. Obviously he does, but to tell you how would spoil things.

High adventure written in everyday language is often a little jarring, but MacHale seems to have a pretty good take on his lead character. Books two and three are already out there. Now if they’d just do something to justify that last name ...