Friday, October 21, 2011

8. The Black

Morpheus Road, Book 2
Written by D. J. MacHale
Aladdin, 2011
$17.99, ages 12 and up, 416 pages

A murderous spirit will stop at nothing to find a medieval battle-ax and wreak havoc on the Light, the land of the living, in this thrill-ride-of-a-book, the second in the popular Morpheus Road trilogy.

In this clever followup, author D. J. MacHale replays the events of the first book through the eyes of Marshall Seaver's dead friend Cooper Foley and reveals how those events were shaped from the Black, a weigh station for the dead on their final journey to the hereafter.

Cooper, who drowned in the first book The Light, arrives in the Black to discover he's entered a place of redemption, where dead people can make amends for mistakes they made in life. Whether they choose to better themselves determines whether they get to move on or they're condemned to oblivion.

There, he discovers that he can return to visions of his home as he remembers it, but no one who is still alive will be there with him, only those who are dead. He sees Gramps, his late grandfather, who has his own troubles to work through, and quickly discovers tensions brewing in the Black.

While still alive, teenage Cooper had often found himself in "TroubleTown," as he called it; just before he died, he was accused of selling counterfeit Yankee tickets. Yet he'd always managed to talk his way out. That is, until trouble hit him head-on, a speedboat plowed into his skiff on Thistledown Lake.

Now he's dead and his troubles are like nothing he imagined: in the Black he runs into Damon of Epirus, the demon who set him up to be killed, and he finds himself in the middle of a border war between the world of the Light and Black that could annihilate the living world.

Damon, a sadistic general from ancient Rome, is trying to use Cooper to get back to the living world and exact revenge for being sent to the Black. He's threatened to kill Marsh unless Cooper goes into the Light and helps his friend find a poleax, a powerful ancient ax buried in Greece.

Damon thinks Marsh can locate the poleax because he came in possession of a crucible after his mother's death that links him to the ax. The crucible is one of six golden balls of blood that seal a portal between the living world and dead, a rift Damon created just before his death with the poleax.

But even without the poleax, Damon has frightening powers. He can create illusions in the Light that lead to someone dying, which he did with Cooper. He also can end a spirit's existence by stabbing it with a black sword that turns them to dust so it can't make the final journey to the hereafter (down Morpheus Road).

Already, Damon is haunting Marsh and Cooper's sister Sydney, pushing them closer to danger, even making it seem like Marsh's graphic novel character, Gravedigger, has come to life. Now it's up to Marsh to get word to Cooper that he's looking out for him and that if things get scary, he isn't alone.

A friendly spirit named Maggie, who hides her own dark secrets, shows Cooper how he can move things around in the Light if he concentrates hard enough. That way he can try to communicate with Marsh. But Gramps admonishes Cooper for trying to mess with the living world, warning him that he could be dumped in oblivion, the Blood, for doing it.

Watchers, spirits who don't speak to anyone but appear in the Black to observe those who are there, decide who gets to move on down Morpheus Road and who should be penalized for breaking the rules of the Dark, of which monkeying with the living is one.

But how can ignoring a friend who's in trouble make Cooper a better person? Cooper always had Marsh's back in Trouble Town and he isn't about to let something like dying change that. Even if it means risking an eternity in the Blood.

As the standoff between good and evil escalates, Cooper finds himself face-to-face with the last person he ever expected to see again, Marsh's dead mother. Killed in an earthquake in a Greek temple several years ago, she's now made some startling choices of her own.

Exhilarating and imaginative, McHale's second book is even better than the first, and leaves you impatient for the final book.

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