Among the Barons
Margaret Peterson Haddix
Scholastic Books, 2003
This is the fourth book in the Shadow Children Sequence; the first book is Among the Hidden. If you have not read the earlier books, you should probably read them first. This book, and this review, will make very little sense otherwise, although you could skip the book previous to this one, Among the Betrayed, and still enjoy this book. If you continue to read, be warned, this review contains spoilers for the earlier books.
Among the Barons is a sudden and pleasing acceleration in the Shadow Children plot. Luke/Lee is surprised -- nay, astounded -- to learn that his 'step'-brother is going to be coming to study at Hendricks School. It turns out that his little brother is as much of a brat as Lee was supposed to be, and has been saying crazy things... claiming that his brother is dead, for example. So he is being sent to Hendricks to teach him a lesson, and of course, to show him that Lee is alive. As one expect, he is a bit of a brat, and worse, he comes equipped with a hulking body guard, who primarily serves to prevent Luke/Lee from learning anything of use about his new family.
This is all perfectly insane, but it gets worse; the boys are shortly called home to live with their parents, and it turns out that the Grants aren't just Barons, they are among the richest and most powerful people on the continent. And if you thought the lives of the regular Barons were full of intrigue and excitement, you haven't seen anything yet. Everyone seems to be trying to pull off at least one devious plan, and everyone has at least two stories explaining what they want to do and how they want to do it. And to keep things exciting, we learn of another revolutionary faction, one that doesn't care a lick for the Thirds, but who want to see the Barons overthrown at all costs.
This is an excellent addition to the Shadow Children series. It brings the plot back to the expected story line, and is a good recovery after the slight stumble of Among the Betrayed. Barons is just as exciting and fast paced as the earlier books, and introduces a number of important elements, including, finally, a possible solution to the Thirds' problem. We get to see a lot of the old characters, and gain a new one (Lee's brother, Smits), and a good dose of the can't-trust-anyone paranoia that is so rarely done well in children's literature.
My largest complaint with this book is the amount of time spent reintroducing us to the plots and characters. Given that each book in the series is less than 200 pages long, the time spent reminding the reader of what has gone before (primarily for those unfortunates who did not read the earlier books) is starting to be a bit of a drag. Large chunks of the first few chapters are review, and very few readers will find this useful. Of course, most series do this to some extent, so we are trained to forgive it, but Haddix has not yet mastered the art of slipping background in unobtrusively. Overall, this is a minor sin.
Among the Betrayed // Among the Barons // Among the Brave