When I was in middle school, the type of books I looked for weren’t as important as finding books that didn’t dumb themselves down. I think that a lot of middle grades authors have the tendency to do just that, which is fine for certain kids, but just frustrating for others. The Cypher, the first book in the Guardians, Inc. series, avoids that pitfall, and assumes an intelligent reader. I suppose you could say that the book falls into the urban fantasy category, as it contains magic, elves, dark creatures, and a clandestine organization that fights the forces of dark, all while being set in the modern world.
Thomas, a sixteen-year-old living with his grandfather following the disappearance of his parents (I suspect that will come into play in future entries in the series), takes a job as a librarian at a creepy old mansion, only to discover that there are bigger forces at work in the world than he ever knew, and that he has a part to play. It turns out that Thomas is a Cypher, which means that he has the ability to read and understand any language that is written down. The book follows Thomas as he learns about Guardians, Inc, the corporation that he now works for, and tries to figure out his role in their dealings.
As I said, one of the things that I really liked about this book is that it assumes intelligence on the part of the reader. There were references to HP Lovecraft and Jules Verne, and even some references that I wasn’t sure about. It also really took its time to build up the main characters before throwing them into any big conflicts. It wasn’t non-stop action. There were two big fights, but only one of them had Thomas involved in any real way. The rest of the book focused on Thomas using his intelligence to solve certain clues of importance.
Sometimes in books like this, the author gives their protagonist instant physical abilities that they didn’t previously have. There is no work involved for the character, but rather there is a sudden gaining of abilities as if through magic. In The Cypher, Thomas is nearly a black belt in martial arts, but it isn’t because he suddenly gains those skills through being a cypher. Instead, it’s made clear that he has been working toward that for years. Not only that, but he also has a teacher who makes it clear that he still has a lot of improvement to become good enough to fight the armies that will be coming.
Of course, there is the ubiquitous love triangle introduced for Thomas that isn’t neatly wrapped up in the first book. I won’t say why, but the fact that one of his love interests is a 3,000-year-old elf isn’t the only thing that complicates his love life.
The Cypher is not going to be a great read for a struggling reader, but for a middle school reader looking for a bit of a challenge, I would highly recommend this book. If you are interested, the e-book version of The Cypher is currently free on Amazon, and the second book in the series, Thundersword, is available in e-book form for only $3.99.