The Book Review: The Dangerous Days of Daniel X

I’ve mentioned that I have written a manuscript for a novel about a Super Hero who finds out that he can’t use his powers violently, The Adventures of…MightyDove! (If you know of any good agents out there, let me know!).  As part of my process, I have been reading other books in the Super Hero novel genre.  I’ve been focusing on the “non-comic book” variety, so no Superman, Spider-Man, etc.  Given I’m reading ‘em anyway, I thought I might as well double my pleasure and blog about them too.  So here it goes…

Daniel X CoverThe Book
The Dangerous Days of Daniel X, James Patterson & Michael Ledwidge.  First in the Daniel X series (of which there are currently five books).

Genre
Science Fiction/Super Hero

Age Appropriate
9 and up.  Daniel himself is a teenager, but the story feels much more middle-grade to me.  The bad guys are super-nasty irredeemably evil, and we get a fairly intense scene in the beginning detailing his parents’ demise at the hands of one of the baddies.  Language and intensity probably a bit much for the younger elementary school set, but I would say by 3rd or 4th grade, this will work just fine.

Good for Grown-Ups?
Not Really.  I’ll get to this more in my review, but I felt that this story was very “by the numbers.”  Very little about it felt fresh or original other than the core concept of Daniel’s power.  It moves along just fine and I can see how younger readers who haven’t experienced stories like this before might enjoy it.  But for adults, I can’t say I’d recommend this one on its own.

Book Availability
I got mine on iTunes for $6.99.  But because this is the ubiquitous James Patterson, you can find these books pretty much everywhere.  I’ve seen them at Target and Costco, among other places.  There is also graphic novel and manga versions of the story, for those who like pictures to go along with their Super Heroes.  Oh, and there’s a Nintendo DS game in case you just wanted to dispense with words altogether.

Quickie Plot Synopsis (minor spoilers)
15-year-old Daniel doesn’t have a last name.  His parents were killed when he was just three.  And did I mention he is a super-genius with super powers?  And he’s not from this planet?

Yes, Daniel’s parents were sent to Earth to protect the planet from other aliens who might seek to enslave humanity.  But their demise left their young son alone, and in charge of the list of evil otherworlders whom he must somehow defeat.

His solitude is somewhat ameliorated by his greatest ability: the power to create.  With only his mind, he can bring into existence anything he can imagine, from his parents and sister to a group of friends.  As long as he’s focused, they are as alive and independent as you and me.  But, while they are more than figments of his imagination, they are fated to eventually leave him alone once again.

Baddies have a kind of MIB feel, but without the tongue-in-cheek fun.

Baddies have a kind of MIB feel, but without the tongue-in-cheek fun.

His projected parents are not happy when he decides to jump to the No. 6 rated villain on the list, telling him he’s not ready for such a battle.  But Daniel’s heard that this Ergent Seth has an imminent plan for worldwide domination.  He has no choice to leap into the fray.

But Daniel doesn’t realize that loneliness is his Kryptonite, and Seth uses it to entrap and enslave our hero.  There he learns that he is just the latest victim of the villain’s campaign to exterminate his entire race.  Daniel must now find a way out of his seemingly hopeless predicament, or see both of his worlds exterminated.

Quickie Review (minor spoilers)
I think that if you have a child who loves video games, but isn’t as into reading, this may very well , as that’s really what it reads like.  From the two-dimensional banter between Daniel and the various baddies, to their boss-monster battles complete with discussion of “power levels”—it all feels pretty much like a video game in words.

Frankly, that doesn’t do too much for me.

Had my teenage self created a girlfriend, I believe she would have looked like this.

Had my teenage self created a girlfriend, I believe she would have looked like this. How ’bout you?

The central facet of the book is an interesting one.  The main power that Daniel has is this power of creation.  And the fact that he creates his friends, and even a love interest, is a clever device.  Unfortunately, the internal battle he faces with this power are dealt with in a very cursory manner, while Patterson and Ledwidge instead decide to focus more on the cool ways he can use his power to get out of particular situations.  Perhaps a deeper exploration into what it means to have the power (and the danger) of being able to create anything out one’s mind will come in later books.  But here it is kept at a very surface level.  I would say “juvenile” but frankly I think most juveniles are ready for a richer experience than what Daniel X has to offer.

One of the biggest issues I had with the book had to do with Daniel himself.  I understand that a major part of YA books is the search for understanding who you are through the difficulties of adolescence.  But the super-genius, four star chef, alien hunter seemed divorced from that struggle.  When we is forced into a high school environment, the relationship he developed seemed unreal, and when that relationship goes terribly awry, it does so in a way not only contrived, but further separating Daniel from a struggle we can in any way relate to.   Once Daniel goes off-planet, the plot drowns in a derivative cascade of Sci-Fi archetypes from The Matrix to Star Wars.  The adorable scamp, the wise sage, the people on the edge of destruction, the final battle—you name it, it’s there without a single toy surprise in the pack.  The only word that comes to mind to describe the story is lazy.

Overall Read Score: 2 out of 5 stars

Opportunities for Discussion
Frankly, I didn’t find this book worthy of a lot of discussion.  I think there are a number of other books that deal with the basic themes here of being an outsider, the hero’s journey, and overcoming evil that would be far more worth your time.

As I noted, however, the one somewhat original concept that emerges in this book is Daniel’s power of creation.  But rather than spend the time and money on this book to have that discussion, I’d instead recommend you recommend that you fire up the Netflix streaming and…

(Don’t) Read It (and Instead) See It

While I cannot find any evidence online, it seems to me that the “X” in Daniel X might be an homage to another teen with the power of creation seen back in the 1960s.  That “X” would be Charlie X, of Star Trek the original series.

When the crew of the Enterprise receive the teenage Charlie after he was orphaned on a desolate planet, they take him back and reintroduce him to human civilization.  What they don’t realize is that he has developed incredible telekinetic powers that, in the hands of a petulant teenager, endangers the Enterprise, and perhaps the Federation itself.

She won't be smiling much longer.

She won’t be smiling much longer.

60’s kitschy effects aside, I think this is a great episode of TOS to watch with your child, especially if you have a boy.  Charlie is an antagonist, but not an evil enemy.  He is to be pitied and feared, not hated.  And it is highly likely that your boy, especially if he is on the cusp of adolescence himself, may well relate to Charlie’s feelings and impulsive decisions.  It also has funny moments, like Charlie slapping Janice Rand (Kirk’s on-ship squeeze) in the keester, thinking it’s just the way grown-ups say “See ya.”

So while Charlie X rarely makes it to the top of many people’s A-list of TOS episodes, it is actually a fantastic show for this particular demographic, and, to me, an infinitely superior way of addressing the only intriguing idea that comes from The Dangerous Days of Daniel X.  If you want to go more modern the movie Chronicle goes in a similar direction with a darker, more angsty feel (and it sounds like there’s a sequel on the way).

So as any good parent would say, put the book down, turn on that TV, and go learn something!

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One Response to “The Book Review: The Dangerous Days of Daniel X”

  1. Linda lippitt Says:

    fun review Scott, Probably better than the book!

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