Monday, February 14, 2011

Hunter Of The Rock

Disclaimer: I received this book from Bonnie M. Lenz, Editor at Earthshaker Books in exchange for a fair and honest review.

~Zan-Gah: A Prehistoric Adventure~
Book 1
By Allan Richard Shickman
Amazon ~ Powell's ~ Jan's Paperbacks

Thousands of years ago, before there were roads or fences or even languages like English, Latin or Hebrew, there lived a boy named Zan. For Zan and his people it is a time of unrest. The tribes are consumed in an on-again off-again war, and temporary treaties are only forged to battle immediate threats.

When a lioness attacks and kills a child, the tribes have no choice but to confront the danger together. Zan, though normally too young for such an endeavor, is included in the hunt and, much to everyone's surprise, is the one to spear the lion.

Spurred on by this sudden accomplishment and his new-found prestige among the tribes, the newly named Zan-Gah sets out on a quest to find his long-lost twin. Along the way he'll encounter hardship, friendship, captivity, love, uncertainty, and triumph as his skills and wisdom are put to the test.

Before I begin, there's something I've got to get off my chest... The animal on the cover looks like a squirrel. I know it's supposed to be a lion(ess). I know it's blurred because it's in motion. But the fact remains that every one of my friends and family who saw this book asked about the squirrel on the cover.

That being said, it was a wonderful story. I honestly don't know why it took me so long to get through it. I first received it for review back in October and it's been rotating through a place on my shelf, on my desk, and my purse ever since. I'd read the first chapter online before accepting the books for review, and found it intriguing—in fact, it reminded me a lot of Peter Dickinson's The Kin, which I loved in middle school. And at 150 pages, the thought of sitting down and reading it was hardly daunting.

I think what struck me as a bit odd at first was the disjointed story style. Though Zan-Gah focuses on the title character for the majority of the book, at the beginning of each chapter the omniscient narrator tends to zoom away from our hero. Even the first chapter introduces the Zan from an outsider's perspective (almost to the point of using 2nd person narration).

These 'character lapses' were most often tools that provided the reader historical context, or foreshadowed future events. Younger readers might enjoy these segues back into the action if they'd stopped at the end of the last chapter, but since I was reading it all in one go, I found it rather jarring. Once I had delved into Zan's journey, it was easier to power through these sections in order to return to the main plot.

The story itself is very realistic and engaging. Though Zan is very young (around 13), I found his maturity growth throughout the book to be believable, as well as his skills and choices. Zan's world is a harsh one, and at times the terrain or inhabitants are especially unforgiving, but I thought the instances of violence (hunting and battle) were handled well for a younger audience. Even the psychology that comes later in the book, which can be particularly confusing, was depicted in terms easily understandable.

I think what I enjoyed most was how everything came together at the end. Honestly, I wasn't sure how the hunting of the lion connected to anything else in the book, other than as an exciting beginning to introduce you to Zan and his world. But as more and more elements fell into place, I was very satisfied with how all the elements had built up to the ending. In that sense, the whole was much greater than the sum of its parts.

Overall, this book was an enjoyable and engaging read. I don't know that someone accustomed to older material would find it as stimulating, but it's definitely a fun ride. Suitable for young audiences, I'd highly recommend it as a classroom read or a parent/child read-along for teens and pre-teens. In addition to some intermediate vocabulary (anxiety, grotesque, ululation), there are depictions of hunting and battle, so do use your own discretion. If you have a unwilling reader, I think the story of Zan-Gah is definitely an adventurous and inspirational book to try.

Approximate Reading Time: 3.5 hours

Click here to preview Chapter 1.