cover image The Lightning Catcher

The Lightning Catcher

Anne Cameron. Greenwillow, $16.99 (432p) ISBN 978-0-06-211276-7

While a certain spunkiness pervades British author Cameron's debut novel (first in a planned four-book series), it's let down by an over-reliance on familiar middle-grade fantasy conventions. Eleven-year-old Angus lives with his eccentric inventor uncle (his parents are conspicuously away on covert assignment). In the middle of the night, a peculiar stranger arrives and insists that Angus must accompany him to the previously unknown Isle of Imbur. There, Angus begins his apprenticeship as a "lightning cub" at the Perilous Exploratorium for Violent Weather and Vicious Storms, where he learns the secrets of his lightning-catching powers and the threats that he and his fellow apprentices are there to stop. Readers may embrace the novel's genial goofiness%E2%80%94Cameron casts a ragtag team of characters with such monikers as Delphinia Dark-Angel, Scabious Dankhart, and Catcher Sparks. But while the author writes evocatively of unusual weather patterns, the story never veers off its predictable path, and the humor doesn't go far enough in punching holes in the source material it draws from. Ages 8%E2%80%9312. (May)