Synopsis

Bobby Pendragon looks like a fourteen-year-old boy, but his basketball skills aren’t what makes him unique. He is going to save the world, just not Earth. After kissing his crush, Bobby is pulled into a different dimension where he is dropped into a medieval world in the middle of a revolution. He is told that he has to step up and lead the war if he ever wants to see his family again. But he will soon discover that Denduron is only the beginning. The Merchant of Death is the first of a ten-book series featuring Bobby Pendragon and his adventures throughout Halla.

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First Impression of Pendragon Book One: The Merchant of Death

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This is one of my favorite book series I discovered in middle school. Unfortunately for me, the books were still coming out while I was reading them and I didn’t get to finish the series for many years. Thankfully for you, all of the books are out now and you can binge read to your heart’s content. The title makes it sound more ominous than the book is. There is a war scene, a gladiator-style fight scene, and a few other intense moments. The violence has a similar feel to one of the last Harry Potter movies.

This series is about the battle between good and evil and how usually it looks a lot more gray than black and white. Each book is written as a series of journals Bobby sends back to his friends on Earth who worry and try to find ways to help Bobby in his new life as a traveler.

Parent Guide for The Merchant of Death

Overall: PG-13
Violence: PG-13  Momentary violence
Adult Content: G
Language: G
Reading Level: Grade 5 – YA

Themes in The Merchant of Death

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  • Friendship: plays a huge role in this book. Bobby is writing the book for his friends. It shows how to keep friends over large distances after a move. A large struggle in the book is not having friends, but Bobby gains new friends just by being himself and letting his talents show.
  • Leadership: Bobby has to step up and become a leader. He soon learns the best leaders use their strengths to solve problems and trying is better than doing nothing at all. In the end, Bobby still isn’t a super confident leader but he has more confidence in his leadership abilities than at the beginning of the book.
  • Talents/Contributing: I lumped these together because they play off each other in the book. Bobby doesn’t feel like he has anything to contribute to the revolution, especially because he doesn’t know how to fight. In the end, he learns that the best way he can contribute is his new and different way of looking at situations because of his experiences.

Themes Part 2

  • Fighting vs Thinking: This is a prevalent theme in this book and the rest of the series. Bobby learns that sometimes fighting isn’t the right solution and just ends up creating more problems. Instead, he learns to take a moment to stop and think through potential outcomes before moving forward.
  • Trust: There are times when you don’t know who to trust or which point-of-view is the best to align yourself. It also talks about gaining another’s trust. Part of it is also learning to trust you even if it doesn’t make sense at the moment.
  • Dealing with Change: Bobby has to adapt to a different dimension, language, culture, and technology (or lack thereof). The Merchant of Death is all about how Bobby handles these changes. Bobby lets us know his insecurities and how much of a challenge it is for him. He also gives little nuggets of how to deal with changes.
  • Moral Decisions/Justice vs Mercy: For the majority of the book the reader is made to think the turning point for the territory is the underdog winning. However, you learn the problem is completely different and gray instead of black and white.
  • Oppression: One group of people are living in mud huts while the others are living in a large stone castle with advanced technology.

Quotes

Whenever you look back and say “if” you know you’re in trouble. There is no such thing as “if”. The only thing that matters is what really happened.

D. J. MacHale, Pendragon Book One: The Merchant of Death

I felt as if I learned a few things. I learned that it’s sometimes okay to think like a weenie, so long as you don’t act like one – at least not all the time. I learned that it’s okay to be wrong, as long as you can admit it and are willing to listen to those who may know better.

D. J. MacHale, Pendragon Book One: The Merchant of Death

[A] friend is someone who gives you trust because they want to, not because they have to.

D. J. MacHale, Pendragon Book One: The Merchant of Death

My Thoughts about The Merchant of Death

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This is an action-packed book that makes you think. It is both science-fiction, fantasy, and a little bit of historical fiction, as Bobby tries to describe what he is seeing in this new world. There are twists and turns that you didn’t even realize until later. Power plays a big part in this book, both because there is one group oppressing the other and because Bobby feels powerless but becomes powerful at the end after gaining new knowledge about the area.

MacHale also experiments with point-of-view, both from how it’s written (first vs third person) and having the situation be explained from all angles including the motivations. As soon as you learn the why behind a character’s actions it makes them seem more like a real person and less like a made-up character. These different points-of-views make figuring out what to do so much harder and more like a problem that someone would come across in real life. None of us will probably have to lead a revolution, but we might have to solve a fight between two friends without knowing a good way to resolve it.

The Merchant of Death is a great book. I highly recommend it to any middle school or high school reader who likes science fiction action books. This book talks about the importance of respecting someone else’s culture and way of life. It also shows how we can befriend others with different strengths. The Merchant of Death also redefines what it means to be a good leader from a person who others follow to finding the strengths in others and using those strengths to benefit the whole. Round of applause for D. J. MacHale.

Next Books to Read

If you enjoyed Pendragon Book One: The Merchant of Death continue the story of Bobby in Book Two: The Lost City of Faar set in a dimension filled with water. Other books you should read include Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz, The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau, and Lord of Opium by Nancy Farmer. Another amazing read you will enjoy is I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore.

Happy Reading!

Emily