Saturday, September 01, 2007

Book Review: Middleworld

The Janguar Stones: Book One
by J&P Voelkel

Fourteen-year-old Max Murphy is used to getting his own way. So he's dismayed to learn that his parents, who are archaeologists, are heading to Central America for a dig and that they've signed Max up to spend the summer at a camp that builds character in teenagers through survival training. But when Max's parents disappear, Max finds himself heading to San Xavier (a fictional Central American country) to search for his parents, instead. In San Xavier, Max is caught between factions seeking the Jaguar Stones, ancient Mayan stones of power. Accompanied by Lola, a Mayan girl who can communicate with monkeys, Max tries to find the Jaguar Stones, summon an ancient Mayan king, and rescue his parents from the Mayan Lords of Death, before the evil Count Antonio DeLanda can collect the stones and take over the world.

Middleworld is a fast-paced, unique, and fascinating story. The non-stop action drives the story along, while at the same time the book provides a fascinating look at Mayan culture, both ancient and modern. While some elements of the story are fictional - notably the country of San Xavier and the Jaguar Stones themselves, the authors go to a great deal of effort in both a preface and in the appendices to separate fact from fiction. Those appendices provide a great deal of information about the Maya for anyone interested in learning more, and a bibliography gives an extensive list of sources.

The only problem I had with the book was that because Max is spoiled, selfish, and petulant at the beginning of the book, he's not a very likable character. These flaws are important to the story, and he does develop and grow as the story progresses, but it makes it very hard to identify with him for the first part of the book, which tends to yank you out of the story. By halfway through the book, he's become a much better character, and the the second half of the book is much enhanced by the addition of two ancient Mayan royals in the form of howler monkeys, who provide a welcome comic relief.

The book is enhanced with beautiful illustrations by Andrea Voelkel and Jon Voelkel.

All it all, Middleworld an enjoyable book that should appeal to adventure-loving reluctant readers, as well as young people interested in ancient cultures.

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