I had this series vaguely in the back of my mind from maybe hearing other bloggers mention it when I was hunting for a new series for my son and me to listen to.
The Search for WondLa by Tony DiTerlizzi. Read by Teri Hatcher. Recorded Books/Simon & Schuster, 2010.
Eva Nine has been raised by a MUTHR robot in an underground sanctuary, training with holo simulations for the day when she’ll be old enough to go to the surface. She feels stifled living underground, and dreams especially of a future that mirrors the old picture she found on a scrap of cardboard in an abandoned tunnel: a child, a woman and a robot holding hands. But when her Sanctuary is attacked, Eva Nine is forced to flee into the wild on her own, and the wild is nothing at all like what her training prepared her for. There are walking trees, carnivorous birds, giant multi-legged creatures that her “omnipod” identifies as closest to microscopic waterbears – and intelligent alien species. Eva Nine bonds with a lanky blue alien named Rovender Kitt as they are both captured multiple times by Basteel, the Queen’s huntsman who’s determined to capture Eva Nine in particular for the Queen’s collection. Together they escape, try to rescue other creatures and MUTHR, explore the world, and are captured again.
I had really mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, the basic premise – humans as a species being kept alive by robots and coming back to find Earth no longer Earth at all, but a planet with its own new civilization, flora, and fauna. The new species and the old Earth technology that Eva Nine uses are all fun to explore. On the other hand, Eva Nine was horribly whiny, especially as narrated by Teri Hatcher. I might have liked the whole series better if it had been narrated by someone else – Hatcher did a great job at MUTHR’s synthesized old-movie mother voice, and indeed at creating distinct voices, but the narration as a whole felt like she never got out of robot mode. The whole thing was read as if it were nonfiction, with lots of careful pauses for comprehension that interrupted the flow and lulled the adult listeners (driving the car) dangerously close to sleep. However, my son still really enjoyed it. The print book, while long, is full of pictures that would make the world building and diverse characters even more fun.
A Hero for Wondla by Tony DiTerlizzi. Read by Teri Hatcher. Recorded Books/Simon & Schuster, 2012.
Despite my reservations with the narration, my son was excited enough about the series that we went on to book two. At the end of the first book (spoiler alert), Eva Nine finds a ship ready to take her to an actual human settlement. She is thrilled! Her dreams of meeting other humans are finally coming true! But her belief in a utopia doesn’t even last out her first day there, as she finds that the humans live in a bubble world, tightly controlled by a patriarch who keeps even the knowledge of the new sentient species on the planet a secret. She also meets Eva Eight, the previous resident of her destroyed Sanctuary, who wants only to go back to her life as it was and live as a family with MUTHR and Eva Eight. When Eva Nine realizes that the patriarch is in fact an Evil Dictator, out to enslave the rest of Orbuna, she must take action!!!
My mixed feelings continue with this book. The world building is still fun, and Eva Nine does grow as a character. Eva Eight seemed unbelievably immature to me, especially considering that she’s supposed to be decades older than Eva Nine. The characters and dialogue felt hackneyed at times. Worst of all, even though our protagonist is a girl, all the other characters were male unless there was a specific reason for them to be female. Here’s my count: Female: the queen, one of five Mystical Alien Siblings, one alien mother, a trio of extremely shallow girls in the human city, Eva Eight, one of the nine elders in Rovender Kitt’s village, for a total of 8. Male: Rovender Kitt, the hunter Basteel, the sweet big alien water bear, alien father and son, the two members of the Queen’s staff, the pilot who rescues Eva Nine, his grandfather, the patriarch, two or three advisors to the patriarch, three prisoners, eight other advisors in Rovender’s village, for a total of 24. Once I started counting, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Do we really still need to be sending the message that only exceptional girls can be leaders? On the other hand, the message of humans getting along with other species is a good one, and addressed in a very interesting way.
We’ve stopped reading the series at this point, mostly because of the narrator. It’s on my list of 11 recent sci-fi books for fourth and fifth graders, and we’ll see if we continue with the series in print sometime later. I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts on this if you’ve read it.