“I need you to read these books urgently because I have feelings and I need to discuss them at length.”
Those were the words I texted to my X-Phile BFF a few seconds after finishing the second of two X-Files young adult novels published this week. The two books, Agent of Chaos, starring a 17-year-old Fox Mulder and Devil’s’ Advocate, starring a 15-year-old Dana Scully, both take place over the same week in the spring of 1979 and follow the two teens as they attempt to uncover the truth about two separate waves of local crime that are getting too close to home for both of them.
On first hearing that novels would be published featuring my beloved X-Files agents as teenagers, I found myself conflicted.
I am a die-hard fan of the show, and also a lover of YA novels, so learning that the two would soon be combined was deeply exciting. That being said, I’m always wary of anything that plans to go back and adjust the history of existing characters, especially ones with so much pre-existing backstory. It’s all too easy for mistakes to be made and small things to be overlooked, creating conflicts within the history. And so, it was with much trepidation that I finally cracked open the covers and began to read. I started out with Mulder’s book – Agent of Chaos – for no real reason beyond wanting to save Scully’s for last, she is my favorite character after all.
However, after reading both I was pleased to have chosen to read in the order I did.
Mulder’s novel sees young Fox recently transposed to Washington DC where he lives with his distant father. The book is set over five years after the abduction of his little sister Samantha, and the years of tension and family stress have long since taken their toll. Mrs. Mulder is described as living on the knife-edge of breakdown back in Martha’s Vineyard, while Fox and his father share their space with a minimum of interaction. The conversations that do occur are taut and uncomfortable for both parties.
Fox has recently befriended Gimble, another young man with a troubled past. Gimble’s mother died a few years earlier when her car plunged off a bridge, sending his ex-military father spiralling into breakdown of his own, one which has him convinced that he has uncovered a vast conspiracy which links together dozens of local murders and connects them all to a book – the 1965 novel Storm Bringer, sixth in Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melnibone series.
Of course, it doesn’t take long for Fox to develop a bond with his friend’s outwardly deranged father. When he finds himself jogging past a new crime scene and inadvertently spots a clue that ties the death of the small child found there to another recent kidnapping, he becomes obsessed with linking it all together; the local murders Gimble’s father is obsessed with, multiple child abductions, and possibly even his own sister’s disappearance. It all culminates with the young Mulder, Gimble, and their friend, Phoebe, driving out to rural Maryland to help crack the case themselves – parental permission be damned.
This is the Mulder we all know and love but subtly changed to reflect his younger years. Here we see him unchanneled, filled with passion and determination but with no outlet for those desires which leads him to rush into things and obsess over them even more so than his adult self. His frustration with his current lack or resources and credibility is palpable and it’s easy to see the path that leads him from these events to the FBI basement. There’s nice scattering of little references that only fans will pick up on too: Mrs. Mulder’s complaint about her broken vacuum and the author of Gimble’s favorite D&D fanzine being two that particularly stood out.
There are issues, of course. Phoebe came across as far too much a Manic Pixie Dream Girl character for my taste, and for a book that constantly expounds that “there are no coincidences,” there’s a fairly enormous one at the mid-point that advances the plot along hugely. However, none of the problems were big enough to detract from the overall story.
Scully’s tale – Devil’s Advocate – also sees her recently forced to move, in her case to a tiny town in rural Maryland where she finds herself struggling to fit in. What doesn’t help are the dreams she keeps having, horrifying visions of an angel who whispers to her in the dark. When a girl in their school is killed in a car crash, Dana learns that the incident is only one of many, with several teens from their school and a neighboring one dying in supposedly drug-related crashes. But it’s when she has a terrifying vision of the dead girl exhibiting stigmata in the school locker room that Dana really begins to get involved.
Her sister, Melissa, introduces Dana to a nearby shop and spiritual sanctuary where she begins learning to expand her growing psychic powers. Dana’s dreams begin to increase in strength and become increasingly terrifying as she catches glimpses that show her how the “car crash” deaths and her angelic visions might be linked, and how she herself is now at risk. But this is The X-Files and there is always more to it that it first seems, as we soon learn from the Men in Black who watch over this little town and all the people who live there.
Overall, I preferred Scully’s story to Mulder’s, although there was little difference between the two. At first, I struggled to see how this fifteen-year-old girl experimenting with yoga and burning incense in her bedroom to help open her mind, could ever become the skeptical, science loving woman we see on the show.
As the story progressed, however, Dana’s character grew and shifted before my eyes into a person I increasingly recognized. As with Mulder’s story, there were several small references slipped in for fans, but Scully’s story did away with the enormous leaps of coincidence the former book relied on – much the way Scully’s own case solving skills relied more on logical steps over Mulder’s wild leaps. In fact, reading Devil’s Advocate actually changed my perspective on Agent of Chaos and made me want to read it again with some new ideas already in place.
These are two fantastic books that add a lot to the X-Files canon and do what all X-Files stories do best, create more questions than they answer. I have dozens of questions after reading, especially regarding one specific character who I now believe knows more than we ever realized they did. I personally recommend reading the two books in the same order that I did, although I would be interested to hear people’s opinions on reading them the other way around. I hope we will see more of these in the future as I would definitely like to read more about my favorite agents as teens – or perhaps college students – and see what else they might have gotten up to in the past.
GeekMom received this item for review purposes.