As soon as they started going through portals (transportation by Flume, as the Travelers say), I was positive that I was going to love the book.
The Merchant of Death is the first book in the Pendragon series by D.J. MacHale. Judging from the title of the series, you'd think it was about King Arthur or something, but so far in the series it hasn't mentioned anything about him. The series is about Bobby Pendragon (perhaps a descendant of King Arthur?), a normal fourteen year old living a normal life. He's got a best friend named Mark and a girlfriend (sort of) named Courtney. He also has this uncle, Uncle Press.
Uncle Press was pretty much the coolest uncle a boy (or girl) could ever have. He gave Bobby helicopter rides for birthdays, taught him advanced diving skills -- all kinds of amazing things.
But then Uncle Press shows up at Bobby's door (right after Courtney's and Bobby's first kiss, coincidentally) and says it's time to go. He doesn't tell Bobby where, but Bobby agrees to go and they shoot off on a motorcycle. Bobby soon discovers that his Uncle is a Traveler, people who have the power to travel not only through space but time as well. It's their job to keep the balance of the universe and to stop a rogue Traveler, Saint Dane, from destroying Halla (which is pretty much the universe, though they make a big deal about it being EVERYthing...). Oh, but guess what. Bobby is a Traveler too, and it's time for him to step up to the plate and fulfill his duties. Save the world, in other words.
Bobby's first 'mission' is on a Territory called Denduron, an alternate dimension. There, Saint Dane has roused up trouble between two tribes and a dreadful war will happen if Bobby and Uncle Press, and two other Travelers don't do something. But Uncle Press is captured, leaving Bobby alone with Loor, another Traveler. Bobby resolves to save his uncle, but will he stop the war or just make it worse?
Meanwhile, back on Second Earth, Courtney and Mark are receiving updates, or journals, from Bobby via a ring that was given to Mark by yet another Traveler. They follow the story of Bobby closely, and help when they can. But there's only so much you can do to help a friend who's not even in your world anymore...
The plot really isn't insanely complicated, it's just hard to explain because there's so much going on in different places with different characters all at the same time. Basically, Bobby's off in Denduron trying to save the world, while Courtney and Mark are back on Earth trying not to totally freak out. Believe me, I have not covered all the details.
What really intriques me is the way the book alternates between Second Earth and Denduron. Denduron, or the part 'written' by Bobby, is in a normal font. But the parts on Second Earth with Courtney and Mark are written in an irregular (but still perfectly legible) font, which gives the impression that Denduron is the reality, while what's happening on Earth is just a story. It's very interesting.
The writing is not the most amazing thing, but The Merchant of Death is engaging, funny, and even fairly realistic. It's a great start to a (hopefully) great series. I'm actually reading the second one (The Lost City of Faar), and it's just as interesting. I'm still hoping for something King Arthur-related (I'm thinking Arthur was a Traveler?), but I suppose the name could just be a coincedence.
The Pendragon series runs along the border between science-fiction and fantasy, so whether you prefer daring quests with a band of travelers or reality-hopping aliens, I would definitely recommend this series. There are currently ten books in the series, plus a graphic novel that should be coming out soon, but I've found mixed dates for its release, so who knows when it'll actually be available (anyone know?). It also looks like MacHale is writing a prequel (?) series with Carla Jablonski, but I'm not really sure what that's about. I also haven't found anything official about a Pendragon movie, but one might pop up after a while.
Lis le livre-ci!