Last year I enjoyed Rick Yancey's young adult title The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp. Last week I finally had a chance to read the sequel: Alfred Kropp: The Seal of Solomon. The Seal of Solomon did not disappoint. The story begins about six months after the conclusion of the first book. Fifteen-year-old Alfred is living a disappointingly ordinary life, following his prior adventures (which included death and rebirth, while working with a secret agency called OIPEP). He laments in the first chapter of Book 2:
"I really thought my life would be different after my death. After all, I had saved the planet from total annihilation, and not a lot of people can say that--well, I can't think of a single living person who can. I'm not saying I deserved a ticker tape parade or a medal from the president or anything like that. I'm just saying I honestly thought my life might be a little different.
I was wrong."
Instead of living as a hero or a special agent, Alfred is living in a questionable foster home, doubted by a psychologist and picked on mercilessly at school. Fortunately for the reader, this state of affairs doesn't last long. First off, Alfred learns through a "bald baby-faced" lawyer that he has inherited his father's estate of nearly a billion dollars (read the first book to see why this news is so unexpected). His greedy foster parents immediately petition to adopt him, and Alfred makes plans to run away. But before he can run away, he's "extracted" from the foster home by his old nemesis, OIPEP agent Mike Arnold. Before you can say "double-cross", Alfred is off on a globe-trotting quest to save the world.
Although this is a spy/adventure sort of book, with guns, fast cars, top-secret security protocols and helicopter chases, the fantasy elements also loom large. The loss of the once-hidden "seal of Solomon" allows the release of demons into the world, complete with horrifying physical and mental ailments for those who run across them, and epic "end of the world" threats. The story is fast-paced, with the suspense and adventure gradually building to a powerful climax. It's a classic "boy book", one that will keep reluctant readers rapidly turning the pages (though I think that girls will enjoy it, too - there are a couple of strong women in OIPEP).
Two things lift this book above the ordinary. First is the fact that the Seal of Solomon isn't something that Rick Yancey made up. There's a long-time legend concerning this artifact, dating back to the Arabian Nights. Also, and more important for the reader, there's Alfred himself. Alfred is not your conventional hero. He's big-headed, clumsy, and not particularly quick-thinking. He doesn't think particularly highly of himself, and his self-deprecating manner is quite endearing. He worries about things, and feels stupid sometimes, just like any high school kid. He has a deep vulnerability around the loss of his parents and uncle. Here are a couple of examples that show Alfred's personality:
"I tried to think of something to say to Ashley, but I couldn't think of anything to say that didn't sound boring or stupid. Of course, I usually didn't let these considerations bother me, otherwise I'd never say anything." (Chapter 15)
"The roads in Marsa Alam were not up to American standards, and I was concentrating on keeping my tongue in the center of my mouth so I didn't bite it off as we jounced along." (Chapter 15)
I mean, how many books and movies do you see with car chases, and how often does the person worry about biting their tongue in the middle of a rough drive? The book is filled with this sort of humor.
"A hyena ordered some Bedouins to shoot me?"
"It's a bit more complicated than that."
"How could it be more complicated than that?"
Abigail coughed. (Chapter 27)
"Alfred," Merryweather said. "OIPEP is the only organization of its kind in the world, with practically unlimited resources and an intelligence network that spans every country on the planet. We shall do what any powerful, multinational bureaucracy would do in such a crisis: we shall hold a meeting!" (Chapter 27)
Funny stuff. Another thing that I liked about this book, in addition to my general enjoyment of spending time with Alfred, was a new character, Op Nine. Op Nine comes on the scene a big, ugly agent with no apparent sense of humor, unwilling to even tell Alfred his real name. But Op Nine reveals hidden depths over time. He makes an excellent foil for Alfred.
One caveat to my general recommendation is that this book is darker than the previous book, with deaths and betrayals and frightening demons. I think it will be a big hit with teens, but parents of younger kids might want to give it a quick read first. Overall, I think that The Seal of Solomon is a worthy successor to The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp. I believe, and hope, that there will be a third book to follow. I think that Alfred is a hero for every kid, one with humor and flaws, as well as persistence and dedication to doing the right thing. And he has great toys (the fastest car in the world makes a cameo appearance, for instance).
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books
Publication Date: May 2007
Source of Book: A review copy from the publisher.
Other Blog Reviews: HipWriterMama, Wands and Worlds, A Catholic Mom's Guide to Books
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.