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The Kingdom Keepers enter dangerous waters in Ridley Pearson's "Shell Game"

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The Kingdom Keepers enter dangerous waters in Ridley Pearson's "Shell Game"

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Do you remember how -- back in the Summer of 2000, just after "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" was published stateside -- some people began grumbling about the direction J.K. Rowling had taken with her best-selling series of books?   Among the complaints that you typically heard back then was " ... I'm uncomfortable with my kids reading the 'Potter' books now. They've gotten too dark, too violent."

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Which is why -- I'd imagine -- as people begin reading the fifth book in Ridley Pearson's "Kingdom Keepers" series, "Shell Game" (Hyperion Books, April 2012), Disney Publishing might start hearing the same sort of complaints coming from some parents. Especially since -- within the first hundred pages of this 560-page novel-for-young-adults  -- one DHI (Disney Host Interactive or Daylight Hologram Imaging) is assaulted in their bedroom and then forced to drink a mixture of alcohol and pills, while the aunt of another member of the Kingdom Keepers teams winds up getting tasered.

My advice to all of you somewhat nervous parents out there is to please give Mr. Pearson the benefit of the doubt.  After all, as the author of more than two dozen novels (which includes his work with Dave Barry of the "Starcatchers" series), Ridley knows a thing or two about when it comes to mapping out an extremely entertaining narrative. And especially when it comes to long form, multi-part stories like the "Kingdom Keepers" series, you sometimes have to really ratchet up the stakes as you enter the latter part of your tale.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

And as "Shell Game" is getting underway, the stakes have never really been higher in the "Kingdom Keepers" world. The Overtakers (i.e. Disney Villains like Maleficent, Jafar and Cruella de Vil - who have somehow been made real and then entered the human world - where they now seek to take control of Walt Disney World and -- eventually -- the rest of the planet as well) have been laying siege to the Engineering Base backstage at Disney's Hollywood Studios for weeks now.  Meanwhile, Finn, Amanda, Charlene, Maybeck, Philby and Willa are getting ready for the DHIs' debut aboard the Disney Dream.

Normally an event like this (which will feature a once-in-a-lifetime cruise through the Panama Canal) would be cause for celebration.  But given the stress & exhaustion that this weeks-long siege at DHS has been causing the teens (not to mention that disquieting rumor which has been making the rounds lately that the Imagineers are thinking of replacing the original Disney Interactive Hosts with some newer, younger faces) ... The Kingdom Keepers can get kind of cranky with one another as they get ready to board the Dream.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

But before that can happen, Finn and Amanda first have to make their way to WDW's Typhoon Lagoon. Where King Triton  of "The Little Mermaid " pledges to help the Kingdom Keepers before they head out on the high seas. Which is definitely going to come in handy, given that Ursula the Sea appears to have thrown in with the Overtakers. As have Captain Jack Sparrow and Tia Dalma from the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies.

That (to my way of thinking) is half the fun of the "Kingdom Keepers" series. You never know what Disney characters (or real-life Disney personalities, for that matter) are going to pop up as you read through each of these books. "Shell Game" -- for example -- features a reference to Imagineer / author Alex Wright not to mention a cameo appearance by WDW Radio's Lou Mongello.

Copyright 2011 Lou Mongello. All rights reserved

Now I don't want to give too much away about the actual storyline of this fifth book in the "Kingdom Keepers" series. Other than to say "Shell Game" is something of a cliffhanger. And that this young adult novel's interlude on Castaway Cay does include a nod to this Caribbean island's somewhat unsavory past.

So don't worry about the somewhat dark and violent aspects of this new Ridley Pearson book. Yeah, there are pirates with swords and would-be murderous animated doughboys waving cleavers in "Shell Game." But it's all in service of the story.

Ridley Pearson aboard the Disney Dream

More to the point, Pearson knows exactly where he's heading with Books VI, VII & VIII of the "Kingdom Keepers" series. Just like J.K. Rowling did with her "Harry Potter" novels. And let's remember that those books got pretty dark towards the end as well before the "Potter" series then ended very, very well.

Of course, if you'd like to ask Ridley himself about what he's got planned next for the DHIs, then you might want to check out the exclusive Facebook event that Disney Reads will be holding this Friday at 3 p.m.  ET.  Where Pearson will be hosting an exclusive Facebook chat with "Kingdom Keepers" fans.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Mind you, if you'd like to win your very own copy of "Shell Game," you just have to answer the following questions:

1) What was the original name of Castaway Cay?

2) Why did this small Caribbean isle have a somewhat infamous reputation back in the 1980s?

3) Which Touchstone Film shot some scenes on this island?

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

And then send those answers along to [email protected] The JHM reader who does the best job of answering these questions will then win a free copy of "Kingdom Keepers V: Shell Game."

EDITOR'S NOTE: As of April 13, 2012, this contest is now closed. The two copies of "Kingdom Keepers V: Shell Game" that JHM was giving away were awarded to Todd Burnside and Beth Strutz.

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