(Note: This review contains spoilers.)
Imagine spending most of your childhood alone in an underground sanctuary with only a robot called “Muthr” as your teacher and companion. You have never seen another human, yet you have prepared to one day emerge, face the dangers of an outside world, and join with others of your kind.
But then imagine the unthinkable occurring: Your sanctuary is suddenly violated by an alien intruder; you barely escape to the outside world, and then you make the shocking discovery that nothing is like what the holographic programs have taught you. In fact, you may be the only person of your species alive on the planet, which may or may not be Earth.
This is how Tony DiTerlizzi’s highly engaging WondLa trilogy begins. But while this futuristic fairy tale may be vastly entertaining on the surface, its underlying worldview leaves much to be desired.
In “The Search for WondLa,” Eva Nine is only 12 years old when forced to abandon the only home she has ever known. Suddenly, she finds herself encountering bizarre and sometimes deadly flora and fauna that even her Omnipod can’t identify. Nor is this handheld computer much help with the grumpy and slightly inebriated blue alien who is squatting in the abandoned remains of an identical sanctuary to hers. Things take a definite turn for the worse when she and the alien, whom she later discovers is named Rovender, are captured by the same bestial marauder who invaded her home.
However, despite her young age and inexperience with the dangers of the surface world, Eva Nine is far from helpless. Clever, resourceful, and uncommonly brave, she manages to outwit her captor and escape with Rovender and a giant water bear named Otto with whom she can somehow telepathically communicate. Determined to find the paradise she sees in a scrap of illustrated cardboard with the word “WondLa” on the top, she reunites with Muthr and, along with Rovender and Otto, sets off on a perilous journey of discovery.
“A Hero for WondLa” begins with Eva Nine and Rovender in the ruins of New York City, where they are waiting for the teenage Hailey, the only other human they have yet encountered, to ready his airship to transport them to Attica, the world’s last remaining human city. But Attica is hardly the utopia they’re searching for. Instead, it is a society where the citizens live seemingly carefree lives but are completely ignorant of what the outside world is really like. The city’s enigmatic leader, Cadmus Pryde, is also unaware that his moves to safeguard his people and restore their place on the planet are being subverted by an “ally” who is secretly bent on humanity’s destruction. As Eva Nine, her newfound older sister, and her friends attempt to expose the truth and save Orbona (Earth) for man and alien alike, they will be tested as never before. And Eve Nine, who is not like any other being on earth, will begin to discover just how special and powerful she really is.
The final book in the series, “The Battle for WondLa,” pits Eva Nine and her friends against a devious being named Loroc who is perfectly willing to level cities and extinguish entire species to accomplish his goal of world domination. His lies and political machinations sow seeds of distrust and chaos, and Eva Nine will have to trust those who once sought her death for help in stopping him. Yet even this aid may not be enough to thwart an ever-changing enemy who seems to hold all the cards. But then again, Eva Nine is a child of prophecy, and can even the mighty Loroc stop what is destined to be?
Gripping and fast-paced, the books can be difficult to put down. DiTerlizzi, a master storyteller whose previous series, The Spiderwick Chronicles, eventually reached the big screen, knows all the techniques needed to create a world that is both profoundly alien and yet human enough to lure in his audience. Unfortunately, for some Christian parents, his superb craftsmanship may not be enough to make up for the non-Christian worldview at the heart of the story.
DiTerlizzi’s Orbona is ultimately controlled by an entity similar to Mother Earth who is aided by an alien device that is bringing life back to the planet via a virus. Rapid evolution is rampant on Orbona, with even a form of lichen in the city ruins becoming an intelligent species in the space of several centuries. For some unexplained reason Eva Nine is able to tap into the earth’s energy, the “hum” of the world, which enables her to feel from a distance all plants and wildlife, and then ask them to do her bidding. Add to this base a touch of shamanism, reincarnation, a fear of spirits, a belief in fate, and occasional bits of graphic horror, not to mention some drinking, and one can see that despite having many excellent elements, the books may not be suitable for all readers.
Would most young teens enjoy these books? Undoubtedly, as they are extremely well-written and filled with fascinating creatures and landscapes. Ultimately, however, due to the issues listed above, some Christian parents may feel that WondLa is not that wonderful.
Image copyright Simon & Schuster. Review copies obtained from the publisher.
John E. Roper, in addition to his role as a missionary/pastor/teacher in Africa, has written for USA Today, the Arizona Republic, the Daily Oklahoman, the US Review of Books, and more.