Atticus Higginbottom, Tick to his friends, is a 13-year-old science geek who gets bullied at school, trips over his own feet, and plays champion-level chess. Few people would guess that such a boy would have the makings of a hero who might one day save the world. Somebody seems to have guessed, however. Somebody calling himself M. G. (short for Master George) begins sending Tick a series of clues, leading to an opportunity to save thousands of lives—but only if he has the courage to face danger and suffering, the cleverness to solve a series of puzzles, and the will to go through with an adventure fraught with spooky weirdness.
It turns out Tick is being recruited by an organization known as the Realitants. These folks are in on the secret that quantum physicists have only guessed: that there are several parallel realities where the world is very different from ours. One is very wet. Another is full of tall, lanky people. Still another world is way more technological than ours. And besides the twelve realities branching off the main trunk of “Reality Prime” (our version of the world), there are countless splinter realities that are fragmenting and fading. Only lately have Master George and his strange companions discovered Reality Thirteen, where the Chi’karda—the force that creates different realities and enables certain people to move among them—exists in a dark and twisted, but very powerful form. An evil ex-Realitant named Mistress Jane has set up her base of operations there, and has launched an insane plan to destroy, recreate, and rule over all the realities.
And so a fresh class of Realitants is needed to stop her. Master George recruits hundreds of children from around the world. Only four end up answering his call, working their way through all twelve clues and gathering for their initiation mission. All they have to do is steal Mistress Jane’s most dangerous weapon from beneath the walls of her Lemon Fortress. But this will mean adjusting to the fact that the enemy is expecting them; surviving swarms of vicious, flying monsters; overcoming rivalries and suspicions to come together as a team; and, in Tick’s case, discovering an amazing and unheard-of new power.
This adventure in the fantasy side of quantum physics is generously stocked with humor, clever puzzles, quirky characters, and thrilling action. It has moments of touching humanity, wholesome family values, and a touch of offbeat mysticism. There are gadgets in it that may blow your mind, from the Gnat Rat to the flying motorcycle. And while your mind is blown, you won’t have any trouble accepting a gizmo whose moving parts actually include the Doohickey, Whatchamacallit, Thingamajig, etc. While Tick and his friends make it home from their first mission safe and sound, the ominous rumble of continuing trouble means we can expect more adventures in their fun, kid-pleasing world (or rather, worlds).
This is only the first of four books in “The Thirteenth Reality” series. The subsequent books are titled The Hunt for Dark Infinity, The Blade of Shattered Hope, and The Void of Mist and Thunder. If, like me, you’re wondering why the name James Dashner sounds familiar, it’s because this isn’t the only popular series of books he has written. Before this came the four-book “Jimmy Fincher Saga,” starting with A Door in the Woods. More recent is the “Maze Runner” quartet, or rather trilogy plus prequel, soon to be a big movie. And then there are the “Mortality Doctrine” books, beginning with The Eye of Minds. Some teens I know are crazy about The Maze Runner, at a time when kids their age are seeing through Twilight and The Hunger Games. This may mean nothing more than “Here’s the latest fad.” But based on the charm of this book (the first I have read by Dashner), and the variety of his other titles, I suspect he mas a magic touch for creating fantasy heroes who appeal to young readers.