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There Can Be Only One

The Many Lives of John Stone by Linda Buckley-Archer is about a nobleman who is blessed with an almost infinite lifespan and is totally not a Highlander rip-off.

There Can Be Only One

BOOK REPORT for The Many Lives of John Stone by Linda Buckley-Archer

Cover Story: Tommy, Can You Hear Me?
Drinking Buddy: Santé!
Testosterone Level: Do I Have a Run in My Hose?
Talky Talk: Time Goes By So Slowly...
Bonus Factors: The Perils of Longevity
Bromance Status: Tedious Friend

Cover Story: Tommy, Can You Hear Me?

One of the few covers with teen faces that doesn't make me want to barf. The cracked mirror obscures the people enough that we can still form our own mental images of the characters. I like the juxtaposition of modern day John Stone's photograph and his seventeenth century painting.

The Deal:

British teenager Stella 'Sparks' Parks doesn't want to spend summer at home. Her father has passed away and her mother is depressed and angry. Her brother Dan is in New York on an internship with some guy named John Stone. But when she visits Dan, Mr. Stone makes an interesting proposal: Sparks can spend the summer in his remote country estate back in England, cataloging his ancient collection of manuscripts.

Teenage girl. Remote mansion with no phone service or electricity. Mysterious man. Cranky gardener and overly-friendly housekeeper. Yes, this sounds like the beginning of a horror movie.

But alternating chapters are narrated by John Stone himself, and we quickly learn his secret. He was actually born in the late 1600s and grew up in the court of Louis XIV at Versailles. A mysterious Spaniard informs John that he may be a sempervivens, someone who can live hundreds of years without ever looking older than middle aged. He's still subject to illness and injury, but barring that, he could very well live to see the 21st century.

So why is he so interested in this girl, Sparks?

Drinking Buddy: Santé!

Sparks was somewhat of a stock character: the intelligent, pretty girl trying to solve a mystery, while watching out for her own well being and flirting with her brother's friend, Ludo. I liked her, but she wasn't someone who made a lasting impression. Modern John takes the immortal thing to the extreme, brooding about his legacy, his past, and his finally failing health.

I did love teenage John, though. Despite living in the court of the Sun King with some of the fanciest people in history, the boy was a total French dork. He stumbles through history, trying to impress a girl named Isabelle, get in good with His Majesty, and not reveal his secret. He fails on all counts.

John (he was 'Jean' back then): That guy just insulted Isabelle in front of everyone!

The Spaniard: Well, that young man comes from an important family, a favorite of the king. I suggest you remain calm and...

John: (runs up and kicks the guy in the butt)

Even over three-hundred years ago, adolescence was still awkward.

Testosterone Level: Do I Have a Run in My Hose?

I'm talking about John, there. It's hard to be macho when you're wearing pantyhose and a wig. John/Jean tries to romance Isabelle at a time when just talking to a woman can be scandalous. There are assassins and intrigue, but it's all very under the table and French. Sparks is a forceful character, but she spends a lot of time waiting for stuff to happen, rather than taking charge. Since we already know John Stone's secret, we're not intrigued when her friend Ludo discovers Stone's doppelganger in a 19th century painting.

Nice plotting, but slow.

Talky Talk: Time Goes By So Slowly...

This book was over 500 pages long, and it sure felt like it. Sparks's sections often felt like nothing was really happening, as did John Stone's modern day chapters. The old timey French parts were more interesting, but that's the only glimpse we get of the past. I started reading this book expecting that we'd get to learn about all of John's adventures over the centuries, but we only hear about a few years in King Louis's court. He mentions that he was in Paris during the French Revolution, fought at Waterloo, and was in England during the Blitz, but we do not get to read those tales or of anything else he did over the years. And it's not like the book wasn't long enough.

Also, there were a lot of letters and journals in this novel and the publisher chose the world's most illegible typeface for these parts. This slowed down the book even more, and I would occasionally skip entire sections, rather than squint over each individual word.

I would have trimmed a hundred pages, made Sparks more proactive, and included what John was up to during the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries.

Bonus Factors: The Perils of Longevity

If you've never watched the deleted scenes from Aliens, you really should.

So John's life obviously has some serious issues. For instance, he can't become too close to anyone, lest they realize that he hasn't aged in twenty years. The Spaniard advises John against pursuing a romance with Isabelle, as he would outlive her by centuries. And John's housekeeper, also a sempervivens, has had to go through the hell of watching all her children die of old age.

Buckley-Archer does a good job of showing us the Long, Dark Tea-Time of the Soul.

Bromance Status: Tedious Friend

I was with you for the first three-hundred pages, but in the end, I was only reading you because we'd spent so much time together. I can't say I'm sorry to move on.

Full disclosure: I received no money or liquor for writing this review. None. The Many Lives of John Stone is available now.

Brian Katcher's photo About the Author: Brian Katcher wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.