The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp begins with the tragic story of Alfred Kropp, not the luckiest character to be invented in recent literary history. He has never met his father, his mother lost her life to cancer, and within a few pages his dimwitted Uncle Ferris is dead too. As if that wasn’t enough, he is unusually large, timid, and considered pea-brained by his peers. Yeesh, and you thought Harry Potter was tragic.
If Rick Yancey didn’t establish the right amount of sympathy for our hero, readers would probably put the book down, but instead you find yourself cheering Alfred on. Yes, the plot revolves around a centuries-old covenant to protect Excalibur from the forces of darkness, but the underlying arc is really about Alfred’s indefatigable spirit. So what if he is closer to Forrest Gump than James Bond? Alfred’s firm beliefs in right and wrong make him a better man than even the knights he must work with.
In fact, though Alfred appears out of place among the secret societies and covert government operations, when the fate of the world is in his hands he succeeds. The book tells us this in the first few pages so the question isn’t ‘Will he save the world?’ but ‘How?’ Only when Alfred gains self confidence and sheds his restrictive, if understandable, fears can he succeed. By giving us a hero who is fearful, rather than fearless, he becomes human.
Yancey writes with a light touch, balancing cinematic action scenes worthy of Michael Bay with Alfred’s unique personality. The magic is in the little moments, like when in the midst of Alfred’s cross country flight from evil forces, the hungry teen introduces corn dogs to an aristocratic knight
The violence in The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp can be shocking, but Yancey uses it in his larger parody of action movies. For example, the book features a mysterious organization called O.I.P.E.P. that serves as a send up to our fictional representations of MI6. Have fun trying to figure out what the acronym means; Alfred certainly does. The references to King Arthur are interesting for those who care and brief enough for those who would rather skim past it.
Bottom Line: Blistering action combined with genuine emotion, Arthurian Legend, and subtle parody make this a great read. Take note, Michael Bay: action doesn’t have to be dumb.
Evan is a learning teenage writer who’s ambition is to become a film director someday, but not until he’s published a few books first. In the meantime, he spends his time playing drums in his jazz band 3 AM Groove, writing for the school paper, building sets on stage crew, and trying to perfect his 100 greatest movies of all time list. He does not like long walks on the beach.