Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Book Review: The Grave Robbers of Genghis Khan

I've written before about P.B. Kerr and his Children of the Lamp series, when I reviewed books 1-6 last February.  It's an inventive children's/ YA fantasy series featuring a twin brother and sister who find out they are djinn.  Now the final of the seven volumes has been released: The Grave Robbers of Genghis Khan, and the series has been brought to a mostly satisfactory conclusion, with wit and style. 

John and Philippa Gaunt have had many adventures with their lovably pompous Uncle Nimrod and his grumbling butler, Groanin (including one they don't even remember).  They are enjoying a spot of R&R in Italy when Vesuvius suddenly becomes active and threatens a catastrophic eruption... as does virtually every other volcano in the world.  Clearly, some evil plot is afoot.  To avert a worldwide catastrophe, John and Philippa must join forces with a team of Icelandic vulcanologists and embark on a rollicking quest to stop whoever is manipulating the world's volcanoes.  The secret may lie in an ancient prophecy, the hidden tomb of Genghis Khan, and the race memory of a family of camels that has relocated from Mongolia to Australia.

The series obviously tries to capitalize on the phenomenal popularity of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson; readers benefitted by receiving 7 entertaining books in a little more than 7 years.  The Children of the Lamp has done for djinn what Harry and Percy did for wizards and demigods, albeit without quite the same bestselling status.  But the last few volumes were rushed a bit too much, I believe.  There are certain uneven spots in editing, and certain things it would have been nice to see wrapped up more neatly.  For example, we do not have a final scene with the children's parents, nor are we given a great deal of insight into whether the evil djinn are behind the volcano plot.  Indeed, the bad guys are really not much more than cartoons in this book, though they are very entertaining cartoons.  This is very clearly the final chapter in the series.  Kerr writes an author's note at the end that will be particularly enjoyable to his fans.

My biggest concern with book 7 was that a few (relatively minor) characters are killed off in this book, but these deaths are dropped into the plot almost as an afterthought, and the swashbuckling, tongue-in-cheek tone continues almost without missing a beat.  Modern kids are not likely to be as disturbed as I would have been by this fast pace and somewhat flippant treatment of death, but I'd still be cautious about giving this book out to kids under 10 for that reason (especially if they haven't read books 1-6 yet, because it is meant to be read in order!)  However, the series as a whole has kept a lighthearted tone all along... unlike the Harry Potter books, which grew progressively darker with each volume, I have no problem classifying all of the djinn books as "children's literature" rather than "young adult."  Some parents may be uncomfortable with the Eastern mysticism on which Kerr builds his series, but I heartily recommend the entire series to anyone who enjoys an entertaining fantasy rich with literary and historical allusions.

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