Conspiracy 365: January – March by Gabrielle Lord

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.


J’s Take on Conspiracy 365: January

Conspiracy 365 CoverIt’s been many months since we decided to devote 2012 to books by Australian and New Zealand authors and nearly that long since we picked this book as our first one for the year. So I didn’t really remember anything about it as I sat down (lay down) to read it, except that K had equated it to the TV series “24”.

That being the case, I can’t say I was disappointed by it particularly. But, man, was it so not my type of book. The best thing I can say about it was that it didn’t take long to read. Perhaps an hour and a half or so.

The main character, whose name I have already forgotten, — Callum? Collum? — has this crazy, sick guy screaming at him about how he should go into hiding for the next year. So we begin our countdown. The story is told by day and by hour:minute, hence at least part of the reason to equate it to “24”. The page count also goes down, something I didn’t figure out until more than halfway through, because I was reading so fast it took me that long to look at the page numbers twice. (I was impressed I’d gotten to page 121 as quickly as I did! Until I discovered a little later I was ‘only’ on page 091.) What struck me as odd about this format was that the story was still told in the past tense. If the goal was to give a sense of immediacy and ‘in the moment’, then it should’ve been in present tense.

So right after this guy rants at him and gets carted off by police or some mysterious people, the main character is in a storm in a boat. And then nearly eaten by sharks. Yea, just like that! We haven’t had a chance to get to know this character at all, and he’s already, randomly, nearly dying a few times. The book continues like that. Kidnappings, shootings, mysterious notes, without any real sense that the main character is truly affected by any of it. The frequent use of exclamation points seems to stand in for his emotion. ! !!

About the time he’s running around and choosing not to tell his mother or the cops about being kidnapped, I’m thinking.. at least he’s like.. 17 or 18, right? (The picture on the cover certainly looks about that.) But no, I’d missed a page right at the beginning that states right up front he’s 15. At this point, I’m finding it all rather incredible. And not at all in a good way. Who has their house broken into and burgled and the cops don’t come? Who gets kidnapped and doesn’t tell their mother or the cops? Who runs away rather than go up to the police and say ‘hey, dude, I totally didn’t hurt my little sister?’ What was he afraid of? At that point, he should’ve been glad if they had arrested him and stuck him in jail. It would’ve been safer for him! (!!)

I get sick and tired of male characters, particularly teenage boy ones, who think they have to ‘protect’ their mother by not telling her things! She’s a freaking adult. You’re a freaking kid. Tell her you were kidnapped!!!

An odd note, the little sister is named Gabbi. The author’s name is Gabrielle. I find it rather odd to name a character after yourself.

Oh yea, so the mystery. His Dad caught some weird brain virus and died. Not that he seems to have been isolated at all. Or cremated. Really? No fear this weird virus you know nothing about is going to spread to other people?

And there’s an Ormond Riddle, Ormond Angel, Ormond Singularity thing. Ormond is their last name. Don’t expect to ever find out what that’s all about, because as you may have guessed, there’s 12 of these books. In fact, this book ends in a really bad place and with no sense of closure whatsoever. It’s a good thing I don’t care at all, because I’m totally not reading the other books.

This would make better television than prose, as there’s a lot, a lot of action, but even so, I wouldn’t be at all interested in watching it. And it would still be unbelievable on several counts.



Conspiracy 365: January (Gabrielle Lord)

The Plot
A few months ago, Callum Ormond lost his father to a mysterious virus. His whole family is still reeling from this sudden and unexpected death. Then, on December 31st, he receives a strange warning from a man who may or may not be crazy: he’s in danger, and will be for the next year. Cal must figure out what it was his father had discovered just before his death in order to discover just who and why people are out to get him.

My Thoughts
January begins our year long spotlight on New Zealand and Australian authors. We start with a look at a series which intrigued me greatly when I first saw it — a series of twelve books, one for each month of the year, recounting in ‘real time’ the increasingly frantic efforts of 15 year old Callum Ormond to solve the mystery surrounding the discovery his father made just before his death.

Why the series caught my attention will probably be obvious when I admit that I’m a big fan of the TV series “24”. The conceit of that show, that all the action takes place continuously within a 24 hour time period, with each episode taking place ‘in real time’ with one hour of action, works extremely well on television. (Even better as a marathon!) Conspiracy 365 looks to take that idea and transfer it to text. Rather than exactly replicate it, author Gabrielle Lord has decided to spread the action out over the course of a year and spread the series over 12 books, one for each month.

I think this is a wise choice; “24” was necessarily restricted in the complexity of the plots it could present because of the inability of the characters to travel long distances or do anything that took longer than an hour or two. With an entire year to work with, the conspiracy of the title can be that much more twisty, that much more suspenseful. Plus, the 15 year old protagonist, Cal Ormond, can be a bit more realistic.

As expected, this first book sets up the initial mystery: a few months ago, Tom Ormond, Callum’s father, discovered something big, something he claimed could “change history”. Then, before he could do more than write a quick letter to his son, he was struck down by a virus that destroyed his ability to communicate before it killed him altogether. Callum is puzzled by the letter he received from his father and by a drawing which accompanied it, but the events of New Year’s Eve and Day are what really start things going: Cal is warned of coming danger by a crazy man who’s then carted off by paramedics, and then a few hours later is nearly killed in a boating accident which turns out to be not nearly so accidental.

The situation deteriorates quickly from there, with Callum attempting to make progress on solving the mystery while trying at the same time to stay alive. He ends the month with a new plan and in a cliffhanger situation that makes me glad we also got the February book at the same time. (And worried that we haven’t yet got the rest!)

The book reads very quickly, structured as one would expect, by day and time. One interesting choice is that the pages are numbered backwards, though only within this book, not backwards to get to page 1 at the very end of the series. It was an interesting choice and did contribute to the feeling of counting down to the end of the month.

This is definitely not a character driven series; Cal is a fine main character, but he’s not given a lot of depth, and everyone else is sketched very lightly. But in depth characterization is not the point: it’s the plot, which races along at a very satisfactory rate.

In Short
From the description of the Conspiracy 365 I expected this to be very similar to “24” in book form. I was not disappointed. January sets up the scenario, introduces our main character, and gets Cal on the road to trying to solve the mystery. Hopefully I won’t have too much trouble acquiring the rest of the series, because it’s going to be impossible not to blow through the entire thing.