By Katie Stockdale
Maggie Hall wastes no time getting to the action in her new novel, The Conspiracy of Us. Main character Avery disobeys her mother to go to prom with Jack, the new kid, and that’s when things get dangerous.
Avery also has a difficult home life; she lives with her mother and they move often. She’s desperate for any information on her dad, and also for some excitement. That’s why she goes to prom, where she’s threatened and kidnapped by a knife wielding teen, who Jack tells her to go with. Instead of refusing, she blindly trusts both of them because they say the might have information about her father. She ends up on a private jet heading to Paris, with people who are so powerful, they can shut down the Prada store if they want to shop alone.
The writing and action scenes of this book are perfectly paced, escalating quickly as the characters uncover clues about a prophecy that deals with who’s going to rule the world. The actual story, however, has a few flaws.
For one, the conspiracy rests on the fact that the “Circle of Twelve” apparently rules the whole world and has done so since Alexander the Great bequeathed it to them. Personally, I’m getting tired of all of the books that rest on the idea that humanity isn’t good enough to raise civilizations without outside help. And, if you even crack open a history book, the idea will immediately become ludicrous.
Speaking of history, the book glorifies Alexander the Great, which has been done enough in high school world history classes. Yes, he conquered Persia, but the empire had been in decline and after defeating its armies he left everything the way it was because the infrastructure and bureaucracy systems were better. So for the people of Persia, the only thing that happened was a new rich guy was on the throne and a new language was deemed official – although for a place as cosmopolitan as Persia was that didn’t really matter.
He conquered Egypt, but they had been in decline for the last thousand years – if not more. And then, Alexander refused to name an heir, despite how most generals don’t have overly long life spans, so that his generals would squabble over his kingdom, wage more wars, and waste thousands of lives and they did exactly that.
This is the guy the book claims to have once ruled the world. Then his 12 generals (even though in history there were three main generals) took his empire and used it to somehow rule the world, even though the Great’s influence never reached past the Mediterranean world and Iran. This is the most troubling part of the theory, because it claims that some of the Macedonian families went out and took over all of the other powerful countries way back when by marrying into them. What, like cultures outside of white ones didn’t know how to be powerful? Like Japan was just waiting for a family from the Twelve to come make it great? It’s not the best message to be spreading.
Aside from this, Hall’s main character is definitely overly naïve in the beginning of the book, trusting someone she’s known for a week, even after overhearing his super sketchy phone call during which he gets a random British accent, and willingly leaving the country with someone who held a knife to her in the middle of her prom. Even after this, Avery treats the whole thing like a fancy vacation, gleefully trying on dresses in Prada and ignoring the warning signs that basically leap off the page.
Avery eventually comes to realize how stupid she’s been and spends a bit of time internally yelling at herself, which wins her back a few intelligence points, and she comes to show through the rest of the book that she actually can think quite clearly under pressure. Her reactions to events, seeing that she is the average American 16-year-old suddenly swept up with the most dangerous people in the world, are very accurate.
Unfortunately, while the characters are strong and the premise interesting, there are several clichés weaved in through the novel. Avery has a star-crossed love with Jack, a storm metaphor is used very, very blatantly, and the ending has the “of course it would end this way” taste. Not that the entire book is this way; Hall actually has a gift for describing iconic spots in Europe and she does a great job developing her scavenger hunt for clues and the clues themselves.
Hall also tucks in some twists intended to stun the reader, which they do, keeping the story’s action up, especially in the end. The book is promising, leading into its sequel Map of Fates with high momentum. If you’re into clues, mysteries, and have a wanderlust for Europe, this book is a good place to start.
Katie Stockdale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.