The planet Lorien is paradise. The people there live for over two hundred years, and they are protected by the Garde, a subset of the population born with super powers and special abilities called legacies. Unfortunately paradise makes you complacent, and the Loriens didn’t see the Mogodorians coming until it was too late. While the Mogodorians lay waste to the entire planet a small band of Loriens escapes to take refuge on Earth. The rag-tag band of survivors consists of nine young Garde children and nine adult guardians to look after them until they grow into their legacies and return to Lorien to restore the entire planet’s ecology and apparently found a new civilization.
‘I Am Number Four’ is the first person account of the fourth of the nine Lorien children and first in a planned series. When the story begins the children have been living on Earth with their guardians for approximately ten years and our hero is 15 years old. The small band of Loriens has scattered throughout the globe to keep away from the Mogodorians hunting them. It seems that the Garde children can only be killed in order (pity poor number one). In the opening scenes of the book Number 4 learns that Number 3 has fallen, and he is next. Fortunately for Number 4 he’s finally old enough for his super powered ‘Legacies’ to start kicking in.
As books go, I Am Number Four is a good action movie. The premise is very promising, but the follow through wasn’t really there. The story telling and character work are exceedingly bland and read like the work of a first time author. It reads like your typical summer blockbuster, which is what it turned into. The movie version was released in February of 2011. Thanks to the movie, the book is pretty well recognized. I used the book to pass the time in more than one waiting room, and quite a few people struck up conversations with me because they had seen the movie and wanted to know how the book compared. I’ve already covered the short answer to that question, read on if you’re interested in the longer answer.
The plots track closely, there are no major deviations. The book suffers because there’s more room to stretch out and fill the gaps between the action scenes. The extra time and the first person perspective of the book give too much time for internal monologue from our main character and the book suffers greatly for it. It becomes obvious pretty quickly that the authors aren’t that interested in fleshing out their characters. All the characters are bland and the internal thoughts of Number 4 get repetitive and dull pretty quick. This isn’t any great big deal in a fast paced movie that jumps nearly immediately from one action scene to the next, but it’s painfully apparent in the quiet parts that the book stretches out.
The book does have some flashback scenes that didn’t make it into the movie. In those we see first hand a lot of the back story of the rivalry between the Mogodorians and the Loriens. It does provide some motive for the villains as we find out they invaded Lorien because they had polluted and destroyed their world. Turns out they used up Lorien pretty quickly making it into a dead world, and now they’re greedily eyeing Earth just as soon as they get rid of those pesky Lorien kids.
While it was good to have some motive for the bad guys, this particular plot thread came off like a very special episode of an early 90’s sit-com. Everyone on Loric just decided to quit polluting so their world became a green paradise, but the bad guys just kept on using up everything without any thought of the pollution. It’s a very heavy handed message, and the novel is about, and marketed to, teens so it’s pretty obvious someone was trying to win some impressionable hearts and minds. Since I’m a jaded adult it just felt flat.
The last major issue I had was with the Lorien legacies and abilities. There’s no discussion of where these come from and a lot of it comes off as just blatant magic. I can easily enough accept that the Loriens have higher technology or that they have magic ability, but both just pushes a little too far for my peace of mind. Once again, that’s probably me imposing my adult sensibilities on something written for a much younger audience.
All told, I enjoyed the experience enough to read the sequel, ‘The Power of Six’, which was recently published. The premise is intriguing, even if it is better off as a movie instead of a slower paced book and I strongly suspect that it was explicitly written to sell to Hollywood.