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Challenger of the Realm

It's hard to ignore Plano-based author H.J. Ralles' ambition. "Move over Rowling, here comes Ralles," reads the blunt headline of a press release from Ralles, announcing the release of her latest sci-fi fantasy novel aimed at the preteen market.

Let's see: Ralles, like J.K. Rowling, was born in England. Both write fantasies for young people. Their names sound something alike. They're both women.

Rowling, however, is a zillionaire whose popular Harry Potter series has permeated the culture. Publication of new works by Rowling is an international event. Publication of Ralles' latest, Keeper of the Realm, will be greeted with book signings and readings at a pair of Barnes & Noble stores in Plano. One suspects that Rowling, a bona fide best-selling phenomenon, isn't sweating in her perch just yet.

Should she be? Is Keeper of the Realm a suitable companion for young readers schooled at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry?

We'll leave that one up to the 9- to 13-year-olds. Our pass at reading Keeper of the Realm was, to put it kindly, a bit less engaging than reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Or the back of a menu at IHOP. But then, at age 9 we were avidly marching through a series of "Tom Swift" books, which we doubt today are on any adult's list of required reading for cultural literacy.

Keeper of the Realm is the second installment of a series of adventures starring Max, a boy from 2010 Earth sucked into a computer game filled with baddies from whom he must escape. He must battle the tyrannical Noxerans who have invaded the undersea Realm of Karn, with help from characters with names like Varl and Targon. (Apparently, no one in the future is named Darrell or Fred. Go figure.) Heavy on technology, Ralles' books might make a passable substitute for religious types concerned about all the sorcery in the Potter books.

And who knows? Maybe someday Max and Varl and company will be as well known as Harry and Hagrid and friends. Maybe that signed copy of Keeper of the Realm you picked up at Plano will one day finance junior's college tuition.

In fantasy, anything is possible.


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