Tuesday, February 15, 2011

I Want To Find Where The River Comes From

This review is for those who have read the first book, Zan-Gah: A Prehistoric Adventure, or don't mind knowing some of what happens in it. Zan-Gah and the Beautiful Country, however, will remain spoiler-free.

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

Zan-Gah and the Beautiful Country
~Zan-Gah and the Beautiful Country~
Book 2
By Allan Richard Shickman
Amazon ~ Powell's ~ Jan's Paperbacks

The Ba-Coro tribe has enjoyed two years of peace and prosperity following the defeat of the Wasp People. And yet Zan can't help but feel suspicious at the vicious tribe's long-kept silence. With such a lush landscape and an ample food supply at their disposal, could it be that they are amassing another strike?

Determined to find the answer, Zan returns to the land of his captors. Little does he know that the biggest threat might lie closer to home...and his heart.

Dael's mind is more troubled than ever. After losing his wife during childbirth, all his inner torment and pent-up rage seems to have finally broken through to the surface. Now it's up to Zan to keep him in check. But how much is Zan willing to do when his brother's rampages turn deadly?

Right from the start, I could tell this book was going to be darker than the last. Whereas the first book focused mostly on Zan's journey and becoming a man, this one was more about the morality (or lack thereof) of war and whether a damaged psyche can ever recover. Such weighty themes make it harder for me to see this as a middle-grade novel, and possibly ranking it up in the high school ages would be more appropriate.

The violence is ramped up a lot in this book. Not necessarily its depiction (that was still rather tame) but the amount and tone of it. Dael's rampages in the first book are merely a precursor to what he does here. And while I felt Dael's actions were believable and/or understandable, I found them much harder to read emotionally.

I was pleased to find a wider focus in terms of the characters. Zan is still a central character, but he shares much of the light with his friends and family. Rydl was especially fun to follow, even though his sections were often short and secluded from the rest. However, Pax and Siraka-Finaka (Aka) were what made this book for me. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed following Zan and Rydl and Dael around, but I loved when the girls showed the men what they were capable of. It's always nice to see the oppressed get their chance to shine.

Unfortunately, the whole feel of this book was off. In comparison to the first book, it was just lacking. There was no overarching storyline driving us forward, and the plot points seemed to appear haphazardly and without reason. At times I felt as if the author was sticking things in because he thought it would work, not because the story was leading there. Even the major themes of the novel (war, morality, women's rights, etc.) seemed preachy at times because of their awkwardness.

Furthermore, there was no 'coming together' at the end. In fact, I found nearly all the conflicts were resolved unrealistically. Be it a quarrel between husband and wife, or an "evil" character suddenly and inexplicably turning good, these resolutions came suddenly. There was no build-up, no redemption, and thus the 'resolutions' weren't satisfying for me.

Overall, I'd recommend this book for an older audience looking to explore more serious themes. While the previous book had an uplifting tone comfortable for maybe 10+ years, The Beautiful Country is geared more for high school and up. If you introduced A Prehistoric Adventure to a younger audience, I'd stick with the wonderful ending it has or proceed to The Beautiful Country with a parent reading along. Older readers I think will enjoy continuing forward with Zan and his friends, but might find the tone-shift a little daunting in comparison to its predecessor.

Approximate Reading Time: 3.5 hours