I Am Number Four is the next in a long line of similarly themed young adult fiction. Boy meets girl. Boy turns out to be more (or less) than human. They fall in love. They eventually can't be together. Action and adventure ensues, along with a lot of heartbreak and near death experiences. The book is unique, however, in that it's told from the point of view of the boy instead of the girl.
John Smith, or Number Four, is from the planet Lorien and one of the last surviving members of his race who managed to escape to Earth. Along with 8 others, they make up the Garde, a race of Loriens who develop Legacies or special powers as they mature. John and his guardian Henri have been on the run from the Mogadorians, the alien race that destroyed Lorien and plan to take over Earth.
The story begins with John and Henri discovering the death of Number Three. Due to a special charm placed on them when they escaped from Lorien, they can only be killed in number order. This means, of course, that John is next and a change of identity and move to Paradise, Ohio is in order.
The book has a good concept, although it is better in theory than execution. John himself is a rather boring protagonist. He has problems like any normal teenager, but he always manages to get through them with little hardship at best. He is frustrated when his new powers develop in school and harnessing them takes daily practice, yet after failing once or twice he manages with ease. Part of me wishes that they had just started the story with John's powers fully developed as it would've taken a lot of the superficial development out of the way and got on with the story.
The only redeeming feature of the 'training' is it allows us to see flashbacks of life on Lorien and what actually happened to the planet. It was refreshing and imaginative and would nice to meet more Loriens and find out more about Loric life in later books.
While at his new school, John manages to make a new friend, a worst enemy and fall in love with the popular girl, Sarah. Most of the relationships in the book didn't seem to grow organically and everyone eventually finds out and accepts that John is an alien with an almost nonchalance. Sarah is also a relatively boring character (in fact, the only interesting character is John's new friend Sam), but John and Sarah's relationship was refreshingly pain free, and I liked that they had no qualms about being together and being in love. They stay 'together' even as John flees Paradise and I'm curious to see how the book will handle the long distance relationship. I did enjoy almost all of John's scenes with his mentor and father figure, Henri and was especially touched at the ending.
The action, however, didn't work for me. The Mogadorians were faceless entities. We are not told enough about them to empathise with their motives or fully understand their power and scale. They come out of the blue, wreak a whole lot of havoc and nearly kill everyone by transporting them into an alternate reality borne out of their special weapons. The last third of the book was a blur of chaos, fire and monstrous creatures and even I can't really fully understand how they managed to flee in the end. Six showing up armed with incredible powers and a kick-ass attitude did help move it along, although I fear that her arrival is the start of the ill-fated love triangle angle that all young adult franchises seem to relish in.
As a stand alone book, it was flimsy, but as the start of a franchise, it does a good job in introducing us to the setting and characters. The ending sets up the second book called "The Power of Six", which refers to either Six herself or the remaining six Lorien Garde left. It also leaves some unanswered questions, which is enough incentive for me to go pick up the next in the series. I am mildly optimistic that it will get better as the story goes on.