By Colm McElwain
Matador, $7.99, 239 pages
James and the Diamonds of Orchestra by Colm McElwain is a modern day blend of The Chronicles of Narnia and Peter Pan. Young James is unsure of his history and his future as he is thrust into unusual circumstances while running for his life. The opening of the story introduces readers to James Clyde and his foster siblings, Ben and Mary Forester, all of whom grew up in a children’s home. James’ only connection to his otherwise unknown past is through Wilmore, his still-living grandfather. James stays with him each Christmas. Before this year’s visit, James hears his foster guardian mention that when he was a baby, Wilmore brought him to the children’s home covered in blood!
James is determined to ask his grandfather about his past. James, Ben and Mary are taken to Wilmore’s home. It is a large and ornate mansion filled with more mystery than any three children can solve. However, James is drawn to several areas of the house by a connection he can’t explain. One evening while exploring, the children find a hallway filled with dazzling light that fades away. After breaking into a room in the hallway, James finds it empty save for a gigantic padlocked treasure chest.
As the children explore the house and attempt to unravel its mysteries, Wilmore becomes more and more worried. Shadows are gathering around the property. He tells the children to stay in the house and not leave until he returns. James doesn’t have a chance to tell the others. Ben leaves the house and someone else enters! Wilmore returns to find the children scared, but safe, and a letter on the table. The letter tells him to bring the last diamond and is signed “Gilbert.” Wilmore and Gilbert have a brief confrontation that leaves Wilmore fighting for his life. With his last bit of strength, he returns to the house, gives James the diamond, which grants him one wish – I wish to be able to fly! – and the key to the treasure chest. Thus begins James’ fight for his life. With Gilbert and his team of ruthless killer beasts behind him, James returns to the house long enough to open the treasure chest. James, Ben and Mary are pulled into the dazzling light, the light of Orchestra, the light of the land of his birth. James, Ben and Mary must find each other and discover what it takes to save Orchestra.
“Hear this now: one day you will be the greatest protector Orchestra has ever known.”
This book has the epic mantel of responsibility readers will find in The Chronicles of Narnia and the whimsy of a far off land they will find in Peter Pan. Readers should know that this book has a bit of a slow start. Part I of the book is dedicated to James, Ben and Mary, but the characters are shrouded in mystery and their back stories are not well developed. While there is foreshadowing that James has a larger role to play, some readers may become frustrated by how difficult it is to connect to the characters until they are more than halfway through the book. However, the book has an interesting story that is an approachable take on a classic idea of the boy hero.
Reviewed by Rachel J. Richards