Indie Book Feature: Ben Archer and the Cosmic Fall by Rae Knightly
I was able to download a free copy of this book during an Amazon promotional period. Author Rae Knightly brought it to my attention and suggested that our books might appeal to similar audiences. And I think there are quite a lot of similarities in our stories. And kids who are in to the Ben Archer series would probably enjoy the Werewolf Max series as well.
Ben Archer and the Cosmic Fall is marketed as a Young Adult Sci-fi book, the first in a series about a boy who witnesses an alien shipwreck and gains special powers, an "alien skill."
The book opens with Ben suffering from amnesia after witnessing a meteorite crash which everyone calls "the cosmic fall." But it is soon revealed that the cosmic fall was no meteorite crash. Everyone who witnessed the event is in hiding from the government. When Ben's grandfather, who also was a witness, is murdered, Ben meets a strangely familiar character called "Mesmo."
Mesmo turns out to be one of the aliens who crashed during the cosmic fall. His daughter died in the crash, and his enemy is still around and dangerous.
When Ben recovers his memory, he learns that Mesmo's daughter gave him her "alien skill" as she was dying, the ability to communicate with animals.
Ben and his mother go on the run, with Mesmo's help. But when his mother becomes ill with the flu and can't find her inhaler, Ben makes a daring attempt to get back home alone to find one for her.
He is captured by the agency they've been running from, but manages to use his still-developing power to communicate with carpenter ants which cause a distraction so he can escape and return to his mother.
The cover of this book looks so cool. It gives off very sci-fi vibes. There's loads of contrast, a clear focal point, and a feeling of action and danger. We see Ben with his faithful dog, Tike, running from some sort of spacecraft or flaming meteor. It fits with the book and it makes me want to pick it up and see what the story is about.
The idea of the story is really great. There's a kid with a mysterious past and a loyal dog. His mom is struggling to care for him on her own. Then he learns that he might have a superpower and becomes friends with a highly advanced vulcan-like alien who also has superpowers. (Mesmo can control water.)
He has to use his wits and luck to stay ahead of powerful enemies and save his mom when she becomes ill.
I am only dissatisfied on a couple points with this story. Overall it is pretty good. First, it did feel like it was dragging a bit at times. As a reader, I didn't understand what the goals of the characters were. Aside from just not getting caught, Ben, his mom, and Mesmo didn't seem to have any kind of long term plan or puzzle to solve. We were learning about what had happened during the time Ben couldn't remember, but that felt like a lot of exposition for a little story.
I think it might have been better to actually tell the story of the cosmic fall from Ben's perspective, so readers could enjoy it directly. It sounds like there was a lot of fun action. And it would have saved several "flashback" scenes later.
Second, fairly early on in the book, Ben learns that he's inherited the "alien skill" of communicating with animals. But he seems to ignore this piece of information. He doesn't try talking to his dog, or birds, or anything. The first time he does communicate with animals, it seems like a surprise.
I have kids. I know that if you even suggested that they could talk to their pets and understand them, they'd be trying it out right away.
Ben Archer and the Cosmic Fall is pretty cool. I think it might fit more in Middle Grade than YA. But maybe Ben grows up a bit as the books progress. At this point, he's still young enough to say "jeepers" several times throughout the story.
Mesmo is an intriguing character. Ben is sweet. His mom is relatable. And Tike is loyal and uncannily smart for a terrier. I'm curious how the story progresses.