Sage Alexander and the Hall of Nightmares
by Steve Copling
Do you remember that evil, cranky looking sun in the old-school Mario video games (if you were born any time after the 1900’s, you probably have no idea what I’m talking about) that was trying to kill you?
Yeah, that’s Texas summer in a nutshell.
It’s technically still spring, but Texas doesn’t tend to believe in that particular season. Our temperatures here in Dallas are already climbing into the high 90’s; the relentless dry heat is creeping just around the corner clad in a suit made of hellfire. Cue the sticky sweat that clings to you every time you set foot out of doors for more than 2.5 minutes, the fatigue that hits you right at mid-day, and the planning of indoor activities to keep the kids from whining about being bored every few minutes.
School is out next week and I’m already busy compiling a carefully curated list of books for my children to get busy reading. We read every day during the summer, and once a week the children write a short summary of what they have read before a formal presentation to the family after dinner on Friday nights. It’s a bit of a tradition around here, and setting a summer reading schedule is very handy when it comes to building those good habits and keeping learning fresh. Early mornings are for the pool and the shaded playground, but after lunch and a quick nap – we don’t dare venture outside until the sun goes down at for fear of melting away. I look forward to the lazy afternoons spent curled around the couch with the air conditioner humming, the children reading, and a glass of refreshing sweet tea in hand.
I have a 15 year-old and a soon to be 13 year-old, and I’m constantly on the hunt for fresh mid-grade and YA reads. Stories that move quick and provide fun, books that are diverse and carry a strong message of courage and honor, and reads that are of course – appropriate. It takes a LOT to keep my nearly-teenaged son engaged and interested, in particular. He was late to the reading game due to a learning disability involving short term memory and speech issues, so he’d much rather set up shop in front of YouTube rather than a book. When I can get him to read for pleasure, he much prefers sinking into a graphic novel versus a lofty tome – which is perfectly alright – but I am trying to broaden his horizons just a tad.
We are getting there, summer by summer, and I am hoping that he will continue on with his yearly reading tradition long after he leaves the nest. Reading is so important, and not only for the extended vocabulary it affords you and the personal library you begin to grow. It helps to keep the mind sharp, exercising a muscle if you will, and it opens your world to characters/people you may never have known existed. Where else can you fly away to a camp for demigods or spend the summer at a school for witchcraft and wizardry?
I’d been following the progress of the television production of Sage Alexander and the Hall of Nightmares for a few months when I was approached to take a complimentary novel and have a read. I know that as a reviewer, I am under no obligation to read and/or review the books that are sent to me from publishers and authors, but I always try to get it done – even if it takes a while. My review schedule is set months in advance, as I only do one review per week and there are only 52 slots. I am working this year on pushing more books out on Fridays, but since I am so dedicated to giving each book the proper read-review-social media exposure I can, sometimes this doesn’t always happen every week.
The Sage Alexander web series is something I’ve been keeping an eye on via social media and various local news outlets, both for its targeted age group and its saturation of fantasy. Whenever I can bridge the gap between film and books for my son, I know I’ve got a fighting chance at getting (and keeping) him intrigued and I knew this series was based off a book. My son relates to film easier than to books for a variety of reasons (one being that his learning disability causes his mind to almost reset itself every few minutes while reading text, which can become a problem when you’re trying to recall pertinent details or when there is a gap in between reading sessions) and as a result, if he can watch the characters come to life on-screen first, he has a much easier time wrapping his imagination around the story in the book. Visual learning is imperative for his growth, so I love it when we can enjoy a film and then the book.
Last summer was all about Percy Jackson and the demigod’s clumsy exploits and adventures spent while navigating the world of his birthright. I think we watched those two films 100 times last year, all while the temperatures rose over 100 degrees and sucked every bit of happiness out of being out of doors. So, I’ve been anxiously awaiting this new Sage Alexander series, which seems to have recently wrapped up filming and is set to debut this summer. The mid-grade to teen age group represented is spot-on for my boy and I knew I had to pick up the book soon. Lucky for me, a publicity agent for the book reached out and sent me a review copy at just the right time.
Enough of my blabbering – on to the story.
14 year-old Sage Alexander is a regular kid growing up in a regular town. To the outside eye, at least.
Behind closed doors, he is struggling. He hears voices, sees visions – particularly in the form of Leah, a spirit professing to be his guardian. Following him around night and day and pushing as much training on him as she can, Leah is intent upon teaching Sage everything about his past, present, and future. She believes that he is the warrior that the prophecy speaks of, the one who will save the human race from hell and all of its demons.
But all Sage wants to do is be accepted at school, spend a normal summer playing video games with his brother, and maybe make a friend or two. And every time he has mentioned Leah to his family, they have dragged him off to see another therapist. Hearing voices is apparently never a good thing.
While once upon a time young Sage took pleasure in wielding the ancient and rare weapons a local shopkeeper in town generously bestowed upon him in secret, he has since abandoned his training. When would he ever use a broadsword? When would he ever have an opportunity to throw a Chinese star or slice a demon with a dagger? Never. His town is about as boring as they come, and although Leah insists that he take his physical training up again on top of studying all of the curious tomes she supplies, their pages full to the brim with information about other warriors and their supposed gifts, surely its just a waste of his time.
Until, it isn’t.
When Sage discovers that his father’s soul has been taken prisoner by one of the dreaded Seven Princes of Hell, he knows he must act. Aided by his grandfather and his trusted companions – a legendary beast of a man named Ronan and a worthy Seer named Theo – Sage will unlock the secrets of his destiny and begin the journey of a lifetime.
Demons walk among humans every day, their treacherous misdeeds weaving into the minds of the innocent like poisoned tentacles. The Seven Princes of Hell are the masters of all that is evil and unkind, and it is up to the Angelic Response Council to use their God-appointed gifts and stop the madness to save mankind. Sage is indeed the boy the prophecy has spoken of, the one who will come to the Council’s aide when they fear all is lost, while doing his part to help in the restoration and balance of good in the world. Somehow, he will play an integral part in driving out the overlords of the nefarious and wicked, as well as the darkness their deadly sins bring with them. He will take it upon himself to not only save his father’s soul but help to locate the members of the Council who have been long disappeared.
And yes, he’s only 14.
Slipping into another dimension against his grandfather’s advice, Sage ends up in a kingdom forged from misery. A Hellspace. The place wreaks of greed, sloth, envy, lust. Down a long hallway filled with locked chambers, Sage will find adventure after adventure, but he will also find danger and misguidance. He will find death.
Will Sage be able to withstand the evils of the Princes and fulfill his destiny? Can any of the missing Council members be found, or is all hope lost? Is he really destined to become prey to the worst horrors imaginable, while losing everything that has ever mattered to him in the process?
Sage Alexander and the Hall of Nightmares is written by Steve Copling, a Texas police captain and family man. While new to the world of mid-grade/YA fantasy, he has penned novels before by way of intricately woven crime stories that no doubt have been inspired by his many years on the job in law enforcement and security.
For a debut into the fantasy world, I was very impressed. The mid-grade/YA fantasy genre is saturated with magic, mythical creatures, and quests. It can often be difficult for writers to find their niche and to make themselves stand out or make an impact. Copling, however, has met his mark.
One thread of plot that was sewn into the story was very unique – taking the seven deadly sins, assigning them a face (if you will) and giving them character status. Sage takes on the most basic horror for mankind – the Princes of Hell. And while Sage steps up to the plate and accepts his fate with honor, Copling does not throw the young hero out there alone (as a lot of fantasy books do, leading readers to believe that the heroes simply learn as they go along, do it all on their own, and emerge victorious). Instead, Sage is armed with an educated and willy pack of sidekicks to help him find his own strength and courage. Hero-building is something that I love about mid-grade books. When you can show that age group that things do not come easy and that work must be put in, it helps to teach lessons – even if they don’t quite realize what they are being taught at the time. Percy Jackson, anyone?
The book was never preachy, but the underlying Christian theme was there if you were looking for it. There were plenty of Biblical Easter eggs to be found if you know even a little bit about the cornerstones of Christianity. It was apparent that extensive research went into these aspects of the novel, and I enjoyed how Copling pulled from Biblical stories and put his own spin on things.
The language and subject matter was clean and tasteful. The show of morality was there in spades. Very clean cut good versus evil. It was strong and very well-edited, full of action and adventure, and left the door open for so much more to come. Some of the magic was a little hazy, especially when it came to the gifts bestowed upon the Council members. I had a hard time remembering who was gifted with what and what that particular gift did, and spent some time thumbing back to the first few chapters of the book to remind myself. The time-traveling aspect did have a few holes, but hey – it’s a fantasy book, so a lot of creative license is given.
All in all, I give Sage Alexander and the Hall of Nightmares 4 out of 5 stars, and recommend it to children ages 10+. This is the epitome of a good summer read for children and young adults, and for parents looking to introduce their children to themes such as good versus evil, coming of age, and overcoming the odds. Junior readers who enjoy Tolkien and Percy Jackson will be satisfied with the quest storyline, and will also enjoy the use of archaic weapons and revered fighting styles. Female readers will not be left out as there is strong and intelligent companion for young Sage Alexander to look up to and fight alongside.
(As we all know, Harry would have died in Book 1 without Hermione.)
A great adventure for young readers, and the story continues in the recently released Sage Alexander and The Blood of Seth.