Series Review: The Debt

I started out really loving this series! The books are fast paced and the adventure is non-stop. There are so many mysterious elements in the story, not the least of which is the evil Debt mafia who are giving Dom, the main character, six impossible tasks to complete.  I love a good puzzle, and these books are just one enigma after another!

However, by the time I got to the last two books, I was seeing some message in the books that I did not agree with. Messages like “School is not for everyone. You can quit and get a job instead.”  Messages like “Underage drinking is okay, as long as you can handle it like a man.”  Messages like “You are in charge of your own life. You don’t need God to tell you what to do.”

Keep reading to see my reviews of each book, and you’ll see how I loved these books in the beginning and then it was a quick descent into extreme disappointment by the last book.

 

Catch the Zolt
Catch the Zolt by Phillip Gwynne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the story of Dom, who is told on his 15th birthday that his family owes an ancient debt to the Italian mafia. When every male family member reaches 15 years old, they are forced to do 6 difficult tasks for the Debt or the Debt will cut off an arm or leg, taking their “pound of flesh” in payment.

I loved that the whole “pound of flesh” thing is from Shakespeare, although the Bard is never mentioned.

Dom is a wonderful character with depth and interest. He has a crush on his best friend, the girl next door. He has a fun dynamic of mutual teasing with his siblings. He trains as a runner, and is obsessed with running. He’s just a well-rounded character, and a great POV for the whole story.

The setting is among the rich and elite of the Gold Coast in Australia. Dom’s parents are rich and hobnob with retired movie stars and politicians. But all that money won’t keep out the bad guys!

When Dom is tasked with catching a devious teen criminal, The Zolt, who delights in stealing light aircraft, he has to get friendly with his archenemy, Tristan, the meanest bully in school.
The back-and-forth repartee between Dom and Tristan keeps the story humming along. The tension between them, and the added danger that Tristan brings to the mix keeps Dom (and the reader) on his toes.

Dom has to really jump through some hoops to find the Zolt and the mystery gets intense. There’s tons of action, and I loved the use of codes, phone taps, and fake apps that pull the mystery forward. Everybody wants a piece of the Zolt, so Dom has to race to get to him first!

A fantastic beginning to the series, and I can’t wait to read the rest of them!

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author/publisher in exchange for a free and honest review. All the opinions stated here are my own true thoughts, and are not influenced by anyone.

Turn Off The Lights
Turn Off The Lights by Phillip Gwynne

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

*3.5 stars
I really enjoyed this second book in the The Debt series! In this one, Dom is tasked with turning off all the lights in the city for exactly one hour. It’s fast-paced and interesting, especially because of the relationships that Dom has with his family, who are not all they seem to be, and with his friends, Tristan and Imogen, who come with their own problems.

Dom is training for a big race at the same time that he’s researching how to turn off the electricity in a huge city, and it doesn’t help that a radical “green” group is stepping on his toes with their own plans to shut down the nuclear facility that supplies power to the city.

The enigmatic Zoe is back, still with her own agenda for her brother, the Zolt. I love her character, so I was glad to see her being particularly Zoe-ish with the spying and riddles.

Imogen is a little in the background though, since she is with Tristan most of the time, but she is still a powerful presence in the story, because of how she motivates Dom to action.

There are so many little mysteries that have yet to be solved: Where is Imogen’s father? What is Dom’s father’s business? What did Gus do that made Dom’s father hate him so much? Can Dom really trust his running buddy, Seb, or is Seb working for The Debt? But especially, why oh why is The Debt asking Dom to do all these weird things? What’s the purpose behind it all? What’s their agenda?
I DO love a good mystery! I must keep reading to find the answers!

The action is pretty wild in this one, almost to the point where I was rolling my eyes at some of the situations Dom gets into. Dom proves to be resourceful and imaginative though. He also makes some really bad decisions and acts incredibly stupid at times, but then again, he’s only 15. He’s definitely maturing and getting smarter as the books progress.

Love this series! Can’t wait to read more!

Bring Back Cerberus
Bring Back Cerberus by Phillip Gwynne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was another quick and fun read in the series, full of action and wild situations! This series would be perfect for any kid that “doesn’t like to read”. The pacing is just so fast that you don’t realize how much you are reading.

This time the evil Debt mafia has tasked Dom with finding and stealing a super-secret new technology called Cerberus that is barely a rumor among techies and not even supposed to exist. Dom gets involved with shady private detectives, pickpocket street kids, tough cab drivers with a penchant for showing up in all the right places, and of course, some tough techie nerds with nothing to lose and big mean bodyguards who are not averse to a little kidnapping and torture. It takes all of Dom’s ingenuity and running skills to find the Cerberus and deliver it to the Debt before his deadline.

Puzzles, anagrams, clues, and mysteries abound in this book! There’s even a Latin phrase that Dom takes to his Latin professor for translation. I love that kind of stuff!
The writing is so hilarious and sarcastic! Dom has some really clever lines that make me laugh.

My favorite supporting characters, Imogen and Tristan, are back in full force, with beautifully awkward teen drama and their own ordinary teenage problems. Dom is so focused on the Debt and his adventures that he needs to be pulled back into the ordinary world of friends and family to keep himself grounded.
The family dynamic is getting tense in this book, as Dom’s mother and sister begin to react to Dom’s increasingly strange behavior. The whole family is so perfectly written, and every character in that family has their own secrets that I can’t wait to uncover in the next books!

Dom continues to be an excellent main character. He’s clever and brave, but mostly he’s just REAL. He struggles and has stupid moments and makes mistakes and freaks out sometimes. I’m cheering him on in every chapter, and completely wrapped up in his story.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author/publisher in exchange for a free and honest review. All the opinions stated here are my own true thoughts, and are not influenced by anyone.

 

Fetch the Treasure Hunter
Fetch the Treasure Hunter by Phillip Gwynne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another great book in this series! The action just does not stop, and for every mystery that we solve another puzzle, another enigma, pops up in its place!

In this book, Dom is hoping to run in the World Youth Olympics in Rome, but when he gets there the Italian mafia is out for his blood, as well as a young man with a particular vendetta against his family. He gets into knife fights, he’s running from the police, he smuggles a valuable coin into the country, he breaks into places and breaks out of places! And through it all, Dom is just trying to get to one man, a famous treasure hunter, who the Debt wants in Australia ASAP.

But aside from his task for the Debt, Dom is training in the Olympic races trying to keep his running career from going down the drain, and he decides to branch off on a little mission of his own. He goes digging into his family heritage at an old village church, and makes more enemies and allies than he can handle. Dom gets into some serious trouble, but the writing is always humorous and sarcastic, making this a fun and quick read.

I was disappointed that there is almost nothing with Dom’s family or his friends, Tristan and Imogen, in this book. But they got a lot of exposure and development in the last two books, so this book focuses more on some other areas, and other friends, like Seb and Rashid.
I am so intrigued by the mystery surrounding Seb. Is he friend or foe? He seems to be helping Dom, but for what purpose? And he never questions Dom’s weird excuses or plans. He’s definitely up to something. I just wish I knew what! The suspense!! Must. Keep. Reading.

The descriptions of Italy are perfection. I could really feel myself there at the Colosseum with Dom and his friends.
Throughout all these books, the descriptions of running are also really relatable. I don’t even like running, but when Dom describes how he feels when he is running, I can understand his mindset. His love for running pours off the page! Really good writing!

 

Yamashita's Gold
Yamashita’s Gold by Phillip Gwynne

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In this fifth book of the Debt series, Dom is determined to find Yamashita’s Gold whether the Debt want him to or not. He sets off to find the treasure, and runs into a whole bunch of other treasure hunters, some less than savory characters and some serious old-salt sailor types.

Once again the action is non-stop, but this time it’s mostly Dom getting HIMSELF into trouble, rather than the Debt pushing him into trouble. There are several groups of dangerous people who are getting really fed up with Dom nosing around, and there’s a price on his head if he steps foot on Reverie Island. The security guards at the Sealand theme park aren’t too happy to see him again either.

As always, the narrative is hilarious even while the action and adventure are full of suspense and terror! The writing is so flowing and interesting that it really captures your attention.

This time instead of relying on his running skills, Dom has to develop his swimming abilities, and he learns to deep-sea dive in preparation from some serious treasure hunting in the ocean. But he gets into all sorts of salty situations where he is literally in over his head, and it takes all his strength and a steady mindset to stay alive. Through it all Dom demonstrates his big heart, his street smarts, and his sarcastic and funny attitude.

I had a problem with this book though. Dom accepts a drink from an old sailor that he’s trying to impress, and gets drunk. The narrative doesn’t really address the morality of it though, whether that was a good move for Dom or whether it was very bad and stupid, because he is only 15. His father picks him up, and Dom can barely walk straight and is giggling like an idiot. His father laughs and drives him home. A hangover is barely mentioned the next day, but not much is made of it. What the nonsense is this? Why is this in a children’s book? What was even the purpose of his drunkenness? It serves no purpose in the story. It doesn’t teach a lesson. It’s very upsetting to see a scene like this in a series that I have come to love with a character that I was cheering on. Suddenly, I have my doubts about Dom as a hero character. He’s getting very dumb.

 

 

Take a Life
Take a Life by Phillip Gwynne

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I don’t know what happened with this last book, but I am not happy about it. The fifth book gave me pause, since the main character Dom gets drunk and no moral lesson is taught about the evils of drinking when you are only 15 years old. In this book, the drinking issue comes up again, this time with Dom drinking alongside his father and grandfather with their permission. No mention is made of his being under-age, or about what a bad idea it is to put poison in your body, even though in the same scene his grandfather admits to being an alcoholic! What kind of stupid message is that for a children’s book?!?

Dom is dealing with the moral and philosophical implications of his latest task from the Debt. He is told to murder someone, anyone, and give them proof that he did it. He looks for guidance in many places (poetry, history, literature, teachers, friends, family, etc…), and when he begins a discussion in his classroom about whether or not it is ever acceptable to take someone’s life, another student says that God does not condone murder. That student is then ridiculed and mocked, saying that he isn’t over his “born-again phase”.
You’d think that when you’re facing a massive decision, like whether or not to murder some innocent person, you’d look to the Highest authority for some wisdom. Maybe even be afraid for your immortal soul. But Dom, like his grandfather, is an atheist apparently.
In this book, Dom comes to realize that he is the “captain of his own soul”, and no one can tell him what is right and wrong. He doesn’t need God. He can be in charge of his own life. This is presented like a triumph of the human spirit. Of course, he is the “hero” of the story, so he doesn’t actually commit murder. He’s the “good guy” so he can’t do it, but he toys with the idea a little too long for my liking.

Again and again in this book, I read messages that I didn’t like, and that have no place in a book for children. For instance, Dom is digging up some dirt on his enemies to get them thrown into prison, and he finds that one of them is gay and “spends thousands of dollars on male escorts”. Dom then says that he wouldn’t “make a judgement either way”, but posts the evidence online for the world to see, ruining his enemy’s reputation. What was the point of including that in the story? Dom already had enough criminal evidence to send the guy to jail. Why throw in the gay part for extra measure? The words “male escort” have no place in a book for kids!! I’m beyond disgusted by this.

At the beginning of the book, Dom decides that he has too many adventures on his plate, completing his tasks for the Debt, and so he quits school. Despite all his teacher telling him what a bad idea it is to abandon your education, despite his parents telling him how he won’t go far in life without a basic high school degree, he quits anyway, and the narrator applauds his decision. “Some people just aren’t meant for school” is the message. Dom basically blackmails his parents into agreeing, and leaves home to live with his grandfather. He starts to work for a sleazy private detective, and continues all his adventures, enjoying his freedom to do whatever he pleases. How is this a good example to kids? Dom is only 15 years old! He’s leaving school after the 9th grade. Do you know how great a life you’re going to have with a 9th grade education?!? What is wrong with this author? You’d think that someone who writes books would have a healthy respect for the people who teach writing and reading and arithmetic.

The adventure, the plot, the characters are all still good. I enjoyed reading it until I got to those parts I hated. Dom is (usually) a character that I loved cheering for. I loved his family and his friends and all the mystery surrounding the Debt. I loved the fast-paced writing and the interesting supporting characters. But this ending… There are some loose threads and I did NOT like the unresolved ending. I like lots of closure, not fade-into-the-sunset endings.

And I kept expecting more development for certain characters. Tristan dropped off the face of the planet with no explanation. He’s just not in the story anymore. The girl who cheered for Dom while he was racing in Rome is still a non-entity. Why bother setting up her character, all elusive and enigmatic, and then never show her face again? I still have questions about her, who was she? Why was she cheering so madly for Dom to win that race? So many side characters who never got developed properly! I. Have. Questions.

I am utterly disappointed in this series ending. The first couple of books were so good.

View all my reviews

 

 

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