Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The next JK Rowling?

Move over JK…there’s a new kid in town, and she’s been creating quite a buzz. Nineteen year old Catherine Banner’s debut novel, The Eyes of a King , the first in a trilogy was just released. I received a review copy from the publisher a couple of weeks ago and stayed up way too late last night finishing the book. And all I have to say is “WOW WOW WOW.” I don’t remember feeling this excited about a book and such anticipation for the next in the series since, well, Harry Potter.

In a nutshell,The Eyes of a King , is the story of 15-year old Leo who lives with his grandmother and younger brother in the country of Malonia, which 10 years earlier was overtaken by the tyrant Lucien. Before the revolution, Malonia was peaceful, creativity such as writing, dancing, and singing, was encouraged, and the great magicians were revered. Now, it’s pretty much a dictatorship, a Soldier-making factory, and completely stifling. The powerful magicians, except for the evil Talitha, have been exiled or forced into hiding. Leo and his brother go to a harsh military school where they are abused by the volatile Sergeant Markey. And Leo has special powers that he must hide.

One day he finds a magical book where writing mysteriously appears. While Leo’s world is falling apart around him, he is engulfed in the story of Malonia, the revolution, a powerful relative, and two teenagers, Ryan and Anna. But is it just a story? Leo soon learns how everything weaves together to bring the old Malonia back.

The Eyes of a King is a book with mystery, suspense, love, grief, heartache, selfishness, and selflessness. Catherine Banner’s masterful storytelling leaves no doubt that she is a force to be reckoned with in the writing industry. But is she the next JK Rowling? Both authors are British, and both write stories with a bit of magic, but I do think the comparisons stop there.

As a complete Harry Potter fan, I dare to say that Catherine Banner is better. Her book has a level of maturity and realism that Rowling was never able to achieve through Harry Potter. There are no cutesy “accio” spells, chocolate frogs, or nosebleed nougats.

And when I say realism, I’m talking about the ability to realistically convey the thoughts and feelings of teenagers. Perhaps the least favorite book in the Harry Potter series is The Order of the Phoenix. In this book, Harry is an angst-ridden teenager and a bit obnoxious, and readers didn’t like this Harry. However, I think there would have been a more positive reception if Rowling could have more effectively conveyed this and made him seem more like a real teenager. In The Eyes of a King , on the other hand, Leo is also ridden with angst and deals with some pretty emotional stuff, but his thoughts, feelings, and actions are completely believable. I identified with him, I cried with him, I felt angry with him. At one point in the book, I actually wept, and I’m not talking eyes tearing up here. I’m talking humunga-junga crocodile tears, a splotchy red face, and sobs—UGLY crying. When an author can elicit that sort of emotion from a reader, you know she’s done something right.

But let’s look at it this way…Rowling and Banner have obviously different stories and different audiences, which makes comparing the two a little obsolete. The protagonist in The Eyes of a King is 15 years old, so already we’re starting with an older readership here. Harry had just turned 11 in the first book—a HUGE age difference. Ten year olds probably won’t like The Eyes of a King as much as Harry Potter, and teenagers will probably like The Eyes of a King more. So, do I think Catherine Banner is the next JK Rowling? Absolutely not. Is she a better writer? Yes. Will she achieve the fame and fortune of JK Rowling? It’s hard to say—the Harry Potter phenomena was huge.

One thing is for sure…she has earned my deepest respect, and I can’t wait until the next book in the trilogy comes out.

*Oh and I did I mention that Catherine Banner is 19, and that she started writing The Eyes of a King when she was 14? A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!!!!

Read an excerpt from the book

Information about The Eyes of a King

  • Reading level: Young Adult
  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers (May 27, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375838759
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375838750
  • Source of book: Review copy from publisher


  1. Interesting, Jill... I actually have that on my shelf, from Random House, but you have convinced me to move it up on my list. Thanks for the review!

  2. Great, intriguing review.

    I have to say, as a fan of Harry Potter, I really was wondering if I was the only one who noticed how poorly developed the characters were. People rage about what a great writer JK Rowling was, but really, she just had a great story. I'm glad I wasn't the only one that thought that.

    It would be nice to have a great story and great writing.

  3. Thanks Jen! I'm looking forward to reading your review and discovering what you think about the book.

    You are making a very important distinction...a good story vs. good writing. I'm also a fan of Harry Potter because of the engaging, entertaining, and well-thought out story, but I also realize that were some faults with the actual writing. What is most interesting to me is that I was actually able to overlook this and thoroughly enjoy all of the books, which is saying something about the power of her story. In MOST cases, I won't stick with a book, much less an entire series, but it was different with Harry Potter. Very interesting.

  4. Oh, don't get me wrong: I loved Harry Potter and couldn't wait for each one to come out!

  5. Oh me, too, Rebecca. I even hung out at our local bookstore until midnight to get two of the books as soon as they went on sale.

  6. If you haven't read Banner's book yet, don't bother. Unless you're an aspiring writer who wants a crash course in how NOT to write. Characterisation was literally non-existent: the characters had absolutely no personality and they all sounded the same. What's more, nothing really happened in the story, and this dark tale was not lightened by any humour whatsoever at any point. Banner may have your admiration for having published a book so young, but in my opinion she would've been better waiting five years until she could write something half-decent.

    For a fuller review of this book's faults, see http://unendingjim.blogspot.com/2008/07/book-review.html.

    Take my advice: go out and buy a David Gemmell novel. Or some Weis and Hickman. Even Tolkien. Anything but this.