Let’s start this book review with a startling revelation – Pittacus Lore is not a person. It’s a pseudonym for a pair of writers: Jobie Hughes and James Frey. The pair came up with the idea for I Am Number Four, which is the first of six novels about survivors of an alien race who are hiding on Earth from their intergalactic enemies.
The central characters are John Smith and his guardian, Henri. They’re survivors from the planet Lorien, which was massacred by an alien race called the Mogadorians. The Lorien managed to send off a ship with nine of their children. Each child has a guardian called a Cepan, who helps them hide on Earth and develop their ‘Legacies’ – powers that the Lorien develop when they come of age. It’s a puberty thing.
The surviving Lorien are scattered across the planet, hiding from the Mogadorian mercenaries who wants to slaughter them. Oh, and the Mogadorians (sounds like a very Douglas Adams kind of word, doesn’t it?) basically pillage the natural resources of a planet and kill all life. And Earth is the next planet in their sights.
After coming close to being discovered, John and Henri embark on a new life, with new identities in Ohio. John joins the local school, but almost instantly butts heads with one of the football team when he smiles at the boy’s ex-girlfriend, Sarah. He also hooks up with the class geek, Sam, who conveniently turns out to be an alien obsessive.
The story of I Am Number Four is quite simple. In many ways it’s mainly about this alien child’s attempts to integrate in a new school and identity, and to keep his head down so that he doesn’t attract the attention of the Mogadorians. He makes a firm friend in Sam, and a promising love interest in Sarah. At the same time, John’s Legacies start to develop, and we get the fun of discovering the extents of his abilities.
The pacing of the story is actually quite leisurely. There’s always the overarching threat of the Mogadorians giving the story ongoing tension. However, ‘Pittacus’ takes his time, developing the backstory of the Lorien survivors and showing how the planet was decimated, and also much of how the Lorien get their powers. But considering there’s another five books to get through, there’s clearly much more to learn about this alien planet.
In order to give this first installment a fitting climax, the Mogadorians come to the peaceful town of Paradise and tear the local school apart trying to kill John. However, thanks to his human friends, his Cepan, and another Lorien who turns up: Number Six. The final stand-off against the Mogadorians is a little muddled, and not perhaps as strong as the rest of the novel up until that point.
The novel has taken some lumps critically for being weak on the scientific elements, and even delving into ‘magic’ with the powers that the Lorien have and the ‘enchantments’ that bind the survivors. That’s probably fair to an extent – I know I raised an eyebrow at some of those parts of the story. But I also subscribe to that old adage that technology sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic.
I loved the bond between John and Henri. I also loved the story of survivors leaving their home planet – overtones of Superman and *gasp* Thundercats. The mythology that was built up over the course of I Am Number Four was fascinating and full of potential for the future.
From what I’m reading, the Lorien Legacies series is intended to fill the gap that Harry Potter and Twilight will leave when they finally wrap up. It’s aimed at teenagers principally, but will most likely appeal to a wider audience. The next novel in the series is The Power Of Six, which I’m looking forward to picking up shortly.