Thursday, June 17, 2010

Jake Ransom and the Skull King's Shadow by James Rollins


Three years ago, a mysterious package arrived for Jake and Kady Ransom. Inside were two halves of a Mayan gold coin, their mother's sketchbook and their father's notebook. But their architect parents failed to return from an expedition to the site of a long-lost Mayan civilization. Now Jake and Kady are plunged into a terrifying adventure. Someone is very interested in what's happened to their parents. And in Jake and Kady themselves. So begins a journey into a world of dangers both ancient and modern. Can Jake and Kady survive long enough to solve the mystery?

I like James Rollins a lot as an author. I enjoy his action adventure thrillers for adults and was therefor very excited when I received a copy of his boys' own adventure for younger readers in the post from Orion.

I feel very strongly and protective of this genre as a whole. It's so easy to get it wrong. Thankfully most authors don't as their editors guide them through the action adventure pathways and invariably the books work.

However, as much as I liked Jake Ransom and as much as I like James Rollins I don't think it's a very convincing book for younger readers. Don't get me wrong, it's a devastatingly competent book with good storytelling and a fantastic plot and mystery at the core, but I just couldn't bring myself to like either Jake or his sister Kady.

I think had Jake been more of a "everykid" I would have had more sympathy for him. Instead Jake is a bit of a knowitall and instead of rooting for him and his sister throughout the novel, I really couldn't bring myself to care about them. I did however begin to care deeply about the world they found themselves in, as well as the two friends Jake made when they were transported to Calypsos, a place that looks and feels a lot like somewhere in South America.

The world building was rich and the mysteries contained within was unexpectedly lush and wonderful and I wanted to stay there longer and find out more about the magisters, about the one language, about the world itself. In fact, I thought that we would be staying in this world but once the baddies in the novel were vanguished - for now - Kady and Jake got spirited away elsewhere for another type of adventure, to follow.

To be honest, there is not an awful lot of action in Jake Ransom and the Skull King's Shadow. It comes in bursts and starts and is unevenly written. There is quite a bit of telling and a lot less showing. Almost everyone is shown to be either evil or good which frustrated greatly as the in-depth characterisation and plotting that I've become used to in his adult books really lacked in this one.

It really pains me that I can't rave about this book because I know it's something I should utterly love. But it just didn't work for me on several levels, chief amongst them being Jake and Kady's dislike for each other, even in the tough situations they get in, and then also the actual dialogue between the characters. It felt hard and stilted and just did not ring true.

I suspect however that this may be the problem for the first book and think that the second book will be the place we'll see Mr. Rollins bring out his usual effortless prose. I am also bearing in mind that ultimately I am not the target audience for this one, and that perhaps my knowledge of his books for an older audience has tempered my review to slant towards the negative. I don't know. It's been a difficult book to review, with flashes of excellence but not enough to make me champion it wholeheartedly. I'll really be interested to see what other readers make of this.

Jake Ransom and the Skull King's Shadow is out later in July from Orion Kids.

1 comment:

Linda said...

I read it for review a while ago, and really liked it. I think it may be partly because I've never read any of his adult novels, and also because the boy reminded me of some of the kids I have taught. And after all, reading has to be subjective to some extent, no matter how hard we try. If you don't like it, you don't! I enjoyed this really honest review.