The League and the Lantern

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
The League and the Lantern Book Poster Image
Fact-paced thriller adds conspiracy to Abe Lincoln lore.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Incorporates events surrounding Lincoln's life and death and Civil War history. References well-known novels and films. Fact and fiction are blurred -- readers are directed to a website to sort out what's true and what isn't.

Positive Messages

Honesty, righteousness, and justice are ongoing themes, drawing from Lincoln's example as president. Authenticity is also central, particularly in relationships: "It's OK if you're not OK," one child assures another. The final words of Lincoln's second inaugural address -- "with malice toward none, with charity for all" -- serve as guiding words, helping an enraged character step back from a taking violent action.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Jake is optimistic and resilient, devoted to his small, unconventional family. Lucy is an especially strong female character, assertive and empathetic with her new friends and skilled in martial arts. Older teens and many of the adults around the young heroes are not very admirable, but the adults who do prove themselves trustworthy are confident, considerate, respectful, and strong. The children conceal information from each other but later acknowledge their mistakes and apologize.

Violence

Kids are in deadly peril through the novel, pursued by armed soldiers. There are explosions, gunfire, swords, and knives, one-on-one combat, and chases on foot and in vehicles. One kid is given a gun at one point. Kids defend themselves with martial arts, wrestling, and fencing moves.

Sex
Language
Consumerism

Passing references to brands, mostly snack foods.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The League and the Lantern is a National Treasure-like action thriller that weaves a fictional conspiracy by the world's powerful elite throughout world history, beginning with the Civil War and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. There's a lot of violence: Children are in continuous deadly peril, are pursued by aggressive criminals, and encounter a slain security guard. Their trust in the adults around them, including authority figures such as police officers, is badly shaken. The main characters leave scores of classmates behind in a building invaded by deadly thugs and go in search of help, but their decision-making serves the plot more than it serves the children still in the museum. The words and example of Abraham Lincoln are used to help lead the young heroes to brave, thoughtful action (and are used as clues to solving secret-society puzzles). This is the debut novel (and first in a series) by Brian Wells, a TV and film producer.

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What's the story?

Twelve-year-old Jake is ready for his Big Do-Over, a fresh start at a new school after a humiliating sixth-grade year. He gets off to a shaky start at the museum sleepover launching seventh grade, but the night soon gets even worse: A militant organization attacks the museum, intent on stealing precious artifacts from the night Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Jake and two new classmates, TJ and Lucy, escape to seek help, but they need to find someone they trust. They head to Springfield, where they hope to find Jake's Uncle Gabe. As they try to unravel the mystery of what the intruders are really after -- and why they're still pursuing the frightened trio -- they wind up in a terrifying confrontation that blurs the past and present.

Is it any good?

Conspiracy theorists, history buffs, and action fans will find plenty to enjoy in this fast-paced adventure, which recovers from an awkward start and goes full-tilt right to the cliffhanger ending. Television and movie producer Brian Wells brings his cinematic background to THE LEAGUE AND THE LANTERN. He crams in everything: covert groups manipulating history, hidden identities, secrets hidden in plain sight, high-tech gadgets, cloning, high-octane chases, and more. Several fun set pieces (a fight on a plane in the museum, a wrestling match among three Lincolns and his foes) and gags (TJ's hunger, Lucy's martial arts reflexes) make up for occasionally inconsistent, clumsy writing.

The bad guys are after wealth and power (of course), but the good guys are devoted to freedom and Lincoln's ideals -- the president's words provide moral guidance to several characters. An author's note separating fact from fiction would have been helpful; readers are directed instead to the book's website.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the popularity of conspiracy theories. Why are they such a common element in action and adventure stories?

  • Do you find the muddling of fact and fiction confusing? Do stories like this make you want to better understand the true history?

  • Do you think this action story works well as a book or would be better as a movie?

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