Review: The Jaguar Stones: Middleworld by J & P Voelkel


Title: The Jaguar Stones: Middleworld

Author: J & P Voelkel

Publisher:  Egmont USA

ISBN: 9781606840719


May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Fourteen-year-old Max Murphy is looking forward to a family vacation. But his parents, both archaeologists and Maya experts, announce a change in plan. They must leave immediately for a dig in the tiny Central American country of San Xavier. Max will go to summer camp. Max is furious. When he’s mysteriously summoned to San Xavier, he thinks they’ve had a change of heart.

Upon his arrival, Max’s wild adventure in the tropical rainforests of San Xavier begins. During his journey, he will unlock ancient secrets and meet strangers who are connected to him in ways he could never have imagined. For fate has delivered a challenge of epic proportions to this pampered teenager. Can Max rescue his parents from the Maya Underworld and save the world from the Lords of Death, who now control the power of the Jaguar Stones in their villainous hands? The scene is set for a roller-coaster ride of suspense and terror, as the good guys and the bad guys face off against a background of haunted temples, zombie armies, and even human sacrifice!

I love adventure yarns, and the first volume in The Jaguar Stones series is a pretty darn good one.  It did take me a while  warm up to protagonist Max, because he is not a very likable kid at the start of the book.  It takes a long time for him to get over himself, and that is the one thing keeping the book from getting a higher grade.  From the very beginning Max grated on  my nerves.  I realize that he is supposed to be whiny and a spoiled brat; he was rather surly and more than a little unpleasant, so I guess it only makes sense that it would take most of the book’s 400 pages for him to redeem himself.

Max’s parents certainly aren’t very good role models.  He is desperately craving their attention, but they are so entranced by their archeological pursuits that they just don’t seem to have the energy for him.  When a dream dig comes their way, they are so quick to pack up and leave Max in the care of their odd housekeeper that I felt sorry for him.  The school year is coming to a close, and he is so eager to show off for them at the school concert.  Plus, the summer is their time to go to Italy and spend a little family time together.  Not this year.  Instead, Max watches with a sinking heart as they lug their bags out the door and head off to San Xavier to study an ancient Mayan site.

Days later, his parents are missing, and Max is on a plane to San Xavier to stay with the uncle he barely knows.  He and Uncle Ted get off on the wrong foot, and Max realizes that he is in for a very unpleasant summer.  First and foremost – his parents are still missing, and he is fearful that something bad has happened to them.  Second, Uncle Ted isn’t welcoming at all, he has connections with some very nasty people, and he expects Max to work all summer long, cleaning up the beach.  Argh!!  And he thought staying home would be snore worthy.  At least he still had his video games to distract him!

Max quickly gets caught up in a frantic search for the mysterious Jaguar Stones, the five sacred stones of the ancient Mayans.  They believed that the stones could open a portal to the underworld, and give whoever possessed them the power to rule the world.  With the help of Lola, a young girl who longs to know who her real family is, and Hermanjilio Bol, a colleague of his parents,  he sets out to save both the world and his parents.  It’s also going to take more bravery that he thinks he can muster, nerves of steel, and trust in his new friends.  It is when Max begins to trust and care about his new companions that he develops into a more noble character. 

The book is very fast-paced and the 400 pages fly by with the velocity of a Formula 1 race car.  I loved the rain forest setting, though the bugs would quickly drive me back to the nearest hotel!  As Max explores his new surroundings, he begins to nurture a new appreciation for the jungle, and I bet he’ll have a whole new attitude about video games when he gets back home.  Passive adventuring has its charms, but as Max grows in confidence during his real and extremely dangerous adventure, the life he used to live begins to pale.  By the end of the book, I was firmly cheering him on.  He faces so many terrible things that would have sent adults screaming into the underbrush, but he determinedly marches forward to save the people who are dear to him.

This book looks great!  There are illustrations throughout, a glossary of Mayan terms, and an explanation of the Mayan calendar.  Middleworld is as fun to look at as it is to read.  I love when publishers take the time to present an attractive book like this.  The drawings do spice up the narrative, and give the final product a more finished look and feel.

The Jaguar Stones: Middleworld is a fun summer read with lightning quick action, a lush, exotic setting, and a protagonist who will (eventually!) win you over.  If you are looking for a suspenseful read with light supernatural elements and a rich historical background, you’ve found your book!

Grade: B

Review copy provided by publisher