Friday, September 21, 2012

Literature Review: Sonic the Hedgehog: Friend or Foe?

I've been a fan of Sonic the Hedgehog since before I could count, and let me tell you, few things from the 90's era hedgehog have ever let me down. He starred in one spectacular cartoon show, and one Looney Tunes inspired disaster (well, disaster is kind of heavy), regularly romped through my Genesis and Game Gear, and had some of the coolest darn toys. Sonic and friends were even on pogs, for crying out loud! But this book, which maybe I'm being a little too tough on, was probably a glimpse at things to come.

Now let me get one thing straight: as a piece of Sonic the Hedgehog merch, this book is alright. It's for younger readers, so it's pretty simple, but fans of the series will probably enjoy it for The Blue Blur alone. However, it doesn't even get this area exactly right. Even though the story is supposed to take place in the SatAM continuity, starring the Freedom Fighters, it features the not-so-diabolical Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog styled Dr. Robotnik. Snively and Cluck, Ivo Robotnik's menacing minions, are nowhere to be found, and Tails is absent from the tale. Which makes some sense considering he was never really a Freedom Fighter anyway. Despite these drawbacks, fans of the series will feel like they're reading an episode from one of the old Sonic cartoons, and that tends to register well with everyone.

However, I'm choosing to review this book as a book and not as a part of an extended merchandise line. I want to judge this book for what it is and not for anything around it. And because of that, I can't give it even the two stars I want to.

Now don't get me wrong. This book does have a one star rating, but that doesn't mean it's awful. It means I won't be leaping at the opportunity to read it again, certainly. It means it did not earn two stars. But that doesn't mean that it is a terrible tome of wincing and torment. Because it's really not. It isn't up to par, even for a kids book, but it's also not even close to a scourge of the language. If we could do negative star ratings, it would not have gotten one of them.

The biggest problem with this book is that it assumes you are already familiar with the environment, with the characters, and with their relationships and personalities. It does take a moment out to introduce us to Bunnie Rabbot and what makes her a unique character, but other than that, nothing. Which can be pretty confusing at times. Most noticeably when Teitelbaum insists on referring to Antoine as Princess Sally's "guardian." Fans of the series will already know that Antoine is a member of the elite royal guard, but this is never stated in the book. I can find it pretty reasonable that someone whose only exposure to the franchise was through this story would be confused and think Antoine some kind of uncle or aunt for young Sally. That's, frankly, wrong.

The second problem was inconsistency. In a short book like this one little scene gone wrong can ruin the whole deal. All of it. That happened around halfway through the book. The Freedom Fighters had been exploring a cave and found themselves dragged over a waterfall by an underground river. They manage to avoid certain doom, but continue hiking downwards to the bottom of the river, where they are somehow now magically in a forest. No transition, no exposition. One second cave, the next second trees. This is jarring, and while I mentally explained it away by creating a really awesome waterfall cave in the middle of a lush hidden valley, that's not ever what was described. This is really problematic, because the next few pages are devoted to an action sequence which makes heavy use of the forested environment. This really isn't something that can be overlooked.

Finally, Princess Sally was as inconsistently portrayed as the environment. The Freedom Fighters set out because the Princess is so gung-ho to locate another Freedom Fighter team and bolster their ranks, but when they finally do come across another Freedom Fighter, who is being attacked by Robotnik's army, she immediately decides not to trust him. She finds what she's looking for and then instantly hates it. Like a middle school cheerleader who finally goes out with that guy she's been pining over half the semester. It doesn't make any sense, and you really get the feeling that the characters are just going through the motions to move the plot that was in Teitelbaum's head.

Okay, maybe I'm putting a little too much blame on the author. The book is technically an adaptation of an episode from the SatAM series ("Game Guy" for those curious. It's the season two starter.), but it was a loose enough adaptation that he could have fixed some things, or, y'know, not made alterations that don't flow with the plot and then try to adhere to it exactly. Nevermind. Teitelbaum gets the blame.

There really isn't a whole lot of reason to read this book if you don't already like Sonic the Hedgehog. The pacing's a little odd, description is sparse, and the characters never feel like real people. Action sequences leave the reader confused (what does "Super Sonic Spin" mean to somebody who doesn't know that Sonic can curl into a buzz saw?) and the prose suffers from redundancy abundancy.

General rule with this one? Read it if you like Sonic. It'll take you all of twenty minutes if you're slowpoke like I am, and it'll make that SatAM/Archie Comics flavor sit on your mind just a little bit longer. If you aren't a fan of the Hedgehog, don't even give this a passing glance. Not even for your nephew. There's plenty of older youth Berenstain Bears books he can read.

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