Rollins - Book Reviews

***** - Excellent
**** - Good
*** - Okay
** - Bad
* - Terrible
+ - Half-star

Jake Ransom and the Skull King's Shadow
(The Jake Ransom series, Book 1)
James Rollins
Fiction, YA Fantasy/Adventure

DESCRIPTION: Three years ago, Jacob Ransom's parents disappeared in the jungles of Central America while exploring an archaeological site at the ill-omened Mountain of Bones. Now, he immerses himself in studies to follow in their footsteps, hoping to become an archaeologist himself so he can some day continue their work... and, perhaps, finally find some answers. His older sister Kady, on the other hand, seems bound and determined to forget, obsessed with cheerleading and shopping. Despite that, she, like Jake, still secretly wears the last thing their parents sent home: a strange Mayan coin, cut in half, recovered from the dig side.
One day, a strange invitation arrives in the mail, inviting Jake and Kady to the opening of a new museum exhibit in London. The artifacts came from their parent's final dig on the Mountain of Bones, and having the orphaned Ransom children there will give a big boost to the media coverage. Despite some strange feelings about the corporate sponsors and peculiar timing, they accept the invitation... and find themselves swept away on a wild adventure in a lost land. In Calypsos, Jake and Kady discover trilobites and dinosaurs, living descendants of many of Earth's lost civilizations, and an enemy that may be as old as time itself.

REVIEW: I picked this up because of the Indiana Jones vibe of the cover; I wanted a nice, rollicking yarn without too much brooding depth or complicated story. Jake is a likable hero, and his adventures move at a fair clip. His sister, on the other hand, plays more like a stereotype than a sibling; we first meet her wearing a cheerleader outfit, making eyes at the captain of the football team, and for most of the book that's who she remains. For that matter, the "tribes" of Calypsos feel more like Saturday morning cartoon impressions of civilizations than actual representatives. The Vikings wear horned helmets which, in actuality, are very rarely if ever actually associated with real Vikings, and the overall cultural attitudes seem very modern; women and men treat each other as equals, and servant/master distinctions and class divides appear nonexistent, which doesn't sound like any ancient culture I've read about. As for the prehistoric life forms, while the nature of Calypsos explains how creatures from so many eras wound up together, it doesn't explain why an author who claims to have done his homework - and who has written many popular adult novels, where research standards are presumably higher - uses the obsolete term "brontosaurus" for giant saurians, unless Jake Ransom's paleontology books are a few decades out of date. (The currently accepted name, Apatosaurus, has been in use since at least the 1980's.) He also mistakes the largest flying animal ever known to science: it is not the pteranodon, but rather Quetzalcoatlus. Then there's the old modern-kid-dazzles-rustic-natives-with-modern-devices gimmick. The natives of Calypsos have some technological (or rather alchemical) knowledge, so they didn't behave quite as stupidly as some "rustic natives" in Young Adult books with this crutch, but it still got tiresome. At least Jake is taken aback by the unpredictable manner in which modern science and Calypsos alchemy reacted; for once, the modern kid doesn't have all the answers, and was forced to admit that maybe people who don't have batteries and iPods just might know a few things he doesn't.
Those flaws aside, the story at least moves fairly fast, and Rollins presents a few nice ideas here and there. Naturally, the ending sets the Ransom kids up for a sequel, which will probably involve their new friends from Calypsos. I don't expect I'll read the next book, but I wasn't entirely disappointed with this one. It would've been nice if Rollins had tried a little harder for authenticity... or originality.

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