Conspiracy 365: January – March by Gabrielle Lord

Conspiracy 365 Cover

Conspiracy 365 CoverFor 2012, the three of us at Triple Take have decided to focus on YA fiction from Australia and New Zealand. First up is the first volume (January) of Gabrielle Lord’s Conspiracy 365 series, in which a teenage boy named Cal must survive attacks on his life for the next 365 days whilst investigating his father’s mysterious death. The publishing schedule was pretty nifty for this series, with the first twelve books (named after the months of the year) coming out throughout 2010 during the month reflected in their title. The thirteenth book in the series, Revenge, was published in Australia in October 2011, but hasn’t made it to the US yet.

Because I couldn’t read just one, please enjoy the first three books in the series, with more to follow!

Conspiracy 365: January
Fifteen-year-old Callum Ormond thought his father’s death six months ago was due to illness, but when a crazy-seeming figure (in requisite billowing black cloak) accosts him on New Year’s Eve and tells him his father was killed over something called “the Ormond Singularity,” he begins to wonder. Initially downplaying the warning that he himself should hide out for the next year, he is soon plagued by perils including: nearly drowning in a storm at sea, sharks, a sneaky uncle, foreclosure, fire bombs, kidnappers, criminals, and life as a fugitive. Aided by his friend Boges (no clue how to pronounce that), he tracks down some drawings his father made in his final days (which are reproduced in the book) and attempts to decipher their meaning, all while hiding out from the bad guys, the authorities, and his family.

It’s hard to really know what to say about January, since it’s almost entirely action. “Fast-paced but really kind of… empty” is a phrase from my notes that seems to sum it up best. That’s not to say I disliked it, because it was pretty entertaining. Okay, yes, already the repeated kidnappings are wearing thin, but it really does feel a bit like a 24 for teens, with Boges filling the role of Chloe to Cal’s Jack Bauer. This is aided by the way the story is written, noting the date and time for each first-person entry (though sometimes these occur during moments when one generally wouldn’t pause to describe what’s happening, like when trapped in the trunk of a car) and counting down the days until safety. The pages are numbered backwards, as well, which is a neat touch.

In addition, Cal seems like a pretty good kid. (You know you’re old when, instead of being fully swept away by the adventure, you’re thinking, “Aw, he’s thinking about how worried his mom must be. What a nice boy.”) I genuinely have no idea how he’s going to get out of the situation he finds himself in at the conclusion of this installment, but that’s okay because I have February right here!

Conspiracy 365: February
The basic plot of the February installment of Conspiracy 365 can be summed up as: Cal hides a lot, and also runs a lot. Perils faced by the teen fugitive include nearly drowning in a storm drain, nefarious people circulating recent pictures of him, and a freakin’ lion, which I thought was going to be the most eyeroll-inducing part of the book until the final pages saw him trapped on the tracks while the driver of an oncoming subway train frantically applies the brakes.

A teensy bit of progress is made toward solving the Ormond Riddle, as it appears that one of the drawings Cal’s dad made references the statue of an ancestor who died in the first World War. But that’s it. There’s no real change in Cal’s situation or his goals, unless you count the introduction of Winter Frey, ward of one of the guys out to get Cal. She proves useful, but may not be trustworthy.

Like January, this is a fast-paced and decently enjoyable read, eyerolling aside, but it’s difficult to find much of anything to say about it beyond that. I predict this will be the case for the next handful of volumes until some answers are actually forthcoming. I further predict that the answers will be rather lame, but I still intend to persevere.

Conspiracy 365: March
At first, I thought I was going to need the next batch of three installments immediately after finishing these, but now I’m ready for a break. It’s not that this series is bad, because it isn’t. But it is very repetitive, and the format enforces some implausible behavior on to the characters.

In support of the “repetitive” claim:
• In volume one, Callum has a wildlife encounter with a shark. He ends the volume in mortal peril.

• In volume two, Callum is rescued by a stranger, who becomes somewhat of an ally. Callum has a wildlife encounter with a lion. He ends the volume in mortal peril.

• In volume three, Callum is rescued by a stranger, who becomes somewhat of an ally. Callum has a wildlife encounter with a venomous snake. He ends the volume in mortal peril.

It’s probably not a good thing when your readers burst out laughing when the protagonist is bitten by a death adder! This makes me wonder what creatures will appear in later volumes. I am thinking there will be a bear. Are there bears in Australia? And there’s gotta be a dingo!

Regarding the implausible behavior… back in volume one, Callum discovered a slip of paper with two words on it, possibly the names of places in Ireland, where his dad discovered the details of this big family secret. Since that time, he’s been in internet cafés a number of times but only now, two months later, does it occur to him that he ought to look them up online. He also tries a couple of times to contact a former coworker of his father’s by calling the office, only to find the guy is out on sick leave. Why doesn’t he, say, find a phone book and try looking up the guy’s home number? Maybe we’ll have to wait until May for him to think of that.

More reviews of this series will follow eventually. In the meantime, feel free to make predictions for future wildlife encounters in the comments.


3 thoughts on “Conspiracy 365: January – March by Gabrielle Lord”

  1. Wow. You’ve convinced me I made the right decision in not reading the rest. How many times does he nearly drown?

    I’ll vote for: scorpion, wild dog, alligator, and rhino.

    Maybe some killer bees as a bonus.

  2. It was the passage of time between advances that really got me. On the one hand, yeah, Cal is a 15 year old hiding from the police and with very little money, so having him spend most of his time concentrating on just staying out of sight makes a lot of sense. Especially after he’s taken battle damage and needs to recover. On the other hand, it does make him look pretty dumb not to have thought ‘tracing paper… maybe it overlays a map???’ It was pretty obvious to me from the first time he had that paper that’s what he needed to do. It was the only clue he had that was obvious, and yet he’s busy fussing over those pictures.

    The first three months were VERY repetative indeed. I felt like Lord was hampered by the fact that she needed to pad this out for an entire year, so it wouldn’t do at all for him to start putting things together too early. Hence the intense running around in circles during February and March. Later months showed a good deal more variety.

    I think where this series was weakest was in the fact that while there were some mini-mysteries to be solved (what is Winter up to?) it was pretty much all a single plot. Not that I was expecting a huge twist, but one of the reasons 24 could hold your attention was that they generally didn’t try to have just one plot fill 24 episodes. They’d have a miniboss/crisis which provided action for the first handful of episodes, and that crisis would be resolved — EXCEPT at the last minute we’d find out there was actually a much worse badguy/crisis who was just waiting for that plot to be foiled and is actually planning something much more nefarious.

    And… I think I will stop there as I’m veering toward spoilers for parts of the series you haven’t yet read. I will say I did enjoy it and I can’t think of another book series that’s even tried something like this — it was ambitious, and it mostly succeeds.

  3. @J I had the same thought about the rhino. And he’s nearly drowned twice so far.

    @K I’m glad to hear that later months offer more variety. And that’s a good point about the 24 subplots. Even though they got to be repetitive too—I wonder, ultimately, how many moles there were in CTU over the course of the series—at least they offered a change of scenery.

    I’d like to know more about Boges, for example. But because the book is in first person, there’s really no opportunity to follow anyone else.

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