This is how you do adventures featuring popular legends or folktales. Lots of action, danger and adventure at every turn, and characters who seem to have been lit on fire because they’re just raring for you to get to the next pages.
Max is the son of famed archeologists who went missing on a dig in San Xavier, a fictional country in Central America, while hot on the trail of the infamous Mayan jaguar stones. By some weird token, their housekeeper Zia helped him get to the site to find his parents. But before he could do that, he had to forge alliances with a Mayan girl, an eccentric archeologist/historian of Mayan descent, and the spirits of Lord 6-Dog, then a mighty Mayan warrior, and his mother, Lady Kan Kakaw, who were unexpectedly summoned from 1200 years of slumber. Together, they had to battle evil and reclaim the jaguar stones which were rumored to bring indescribable power to anyone who can bring them all together.
I read Middleworld as soon as I was able to borrow a copy. My main reason was to compare it with The Daykeeper’s Grimoire (please read my review here) where the main theme also revolved around the Mayan legend. And boy, what disparities between these two books have; you could probably build a Guinness World record holder bridge just to “bridge” the gap between the two. The Daykeeper’s Grimoire wasted too much time being inside Breidablik Castle (the resolution to the story’s problem was very very disappointing, too. Glad I wasn’t on a high horse while reading it or else I would have fallen real bad). Middleworld succeeded where DG failed because Jon & Pamela Voelkel banked on one of the foremost ingredients in middle-grade adventures, or of any adventure story for that matter: not staying in one place (or situation) for too long. The story that started in Boston quickly became an introduction to San Xavier (which some say was roughly modeled after Belize) interspersed with explorations of ancient Mayan pyramids (I tell you they’re creepy not to mention mysterious) and the dense and harsh Mayan forest.
Now on to the characters.
Max at first was unbelievably annoying. He’s bratty, lazy, demanding, such a picky eater (I don’t eat everything myself but I love food and the happiness a well cooked meal brings so I get truly miffed when someone picks at his food), fearful and a big complainer. He pretty much acts like the city kid he is and if I were any of the locals, I’d shake my head at how come he has survived this long. But despite all that, he has managed to ingratiate himself as the book progressed. By the end of the book, Max has certainly matured considering his attitude (and I really mean attitude of which he had a lot) when the story opened. However, it was Lola who made me believe that the book could be great. She’s smart, headstrong and particularly adept at surviving in dangerous situations. The other characters lent their unique colors to the story, too. Even when stuck in a dangerous situation, you could depend on them to bring on the hilarity. Some of my favorites:
“Of course it’s not you!” snapped Hermanjilio in exasperation. “Let us not confuse the emotional turmoil of adolescence with the inner workings of one of history’s most evil villains!”
“It’s such a cliche,” said Max. “Why do bad guys always want to rule the world?”
“Deep-seated emotional insecurity masquerading as a superiority complex?” suggested Lola.
As I see it,” said Max, “all that stands between humankind and the end of the world is two talking monkeys, a crazy archaeologist covered in red paint, and a couple of kids with blowguns? Am I right?”
“Wrong,” said Hermanjilio. “I’ll be wearing my black paint this time. Now keep practicing.”
What I like most about the book is how alive it is. One may not expect Middleword to win snotty literary awards but it will engage you and hold your attention that you can’t help but be with it (a great compliment to the writers, don’t you think?) I like how the Mayan legend is explained. While I’m still having trouble about understanding their calendar but the other aspects of their culture were well played out. I just like how the book didn’t try to be everything all at once unlike The Daykeeper’s Grimoire when the latter involved too many theories (okay, I still have a gripe against that book, forgive me). And the ending? Ah, a well-deserved dessert to complement a rich meal. I’m looking forward to my questions to be answered in the second book in The Jaguar Stones Trilogy.
You can stalk the fabulous husband & wife writing tandem on:
Their Website – www.jaguarstones.com
Their Blog – JaguarStones.Wordpress.com
Twitter – @pvoelkel
Goodreads – Jon Voelkel on Goodreads
Pamela Voelkel on Goodreads