When a mysterious envelope arrives for Jake Ransom, he and his older sister, Kady, are plunged into a gripping chain of events. An artifact found by their archeologist parents on the expedition from which they never returned leads Jake and Kady to a strange world inhabited by a peculiar mix of long-lost civilizations, a world that may hold the key to their parents' disappearance.
But even as they enter the gate to this extraordinary place, savage grackyls soar across the sky, diving to attack. Jake's new friends, the pretty Mayan girl Marika and the Roman Pindor, say the grackyls were created by an evil alchemist—the Skull King. And as Jake struggles to find a way home, it becomes obvious that what the Skull King wants most is Jake and Kady—dead or alive.
I have long been a fan of James Rollins' Sigma Force novels, but I might not last long in my job if I started recommending them to the boys at school due to the level of (occasionally graphic) violence they contain. This, then, is something of a diversion from his normal fare, but only in writing style. It is definitely aimed below the adult market, but his trademark use of action, adventure, science and elements of the supernatural has not changed at all. Combine this with a suggestion of time-travel, ancient civilisations (in this case the primary focus is the Maya), and the mysterious Skull King as the villain then you have an adventure story that should appeal even to reluctant readers. James Rollins has been producing books like this for adults for many years and all I can do is applaud his decision to enter the Young Adult market.
This is obviously the first in a series of Jake Ransom books, not only because the ending leaves you thirsting for more but also because James Rollins has included one of his trademark author notes at the end where he promises more, but we will have to wait until April 2010 for the next title to be published, entitled "Jake Ransom and the Howling Sphinx". Until I discovered this I was feeling that some of the characters were not being developed as much as others (Jake's sister Kady, for example, is conspicuously absent from a lot of the story), however I am sure that these characters will be further developed in the sequel and beyond.
I sometimes face criticism from friends for my love of books written for kids/young adults but for me reading has always been about the escapism, and if a story is exciting and well-written then why should the level of language affect my enjoyment? I have slowly managed to convert a number of friends around to my way of thinking (Harry Potter, His Dark Materials and Artemis Fowl certianly helped me on this mission), and this is another book that I will be recommending to them. I have already emailed the school librarian to make sure she adds it to the next book order.
James Rollins produced the novelisation of last year's fourth Indiana Jones film, and there are many similarities between this book and the Indy franchise. I may be wrong, but I guess that being involved in the Indiana Jones book may have created an appetite for producing a series of books where his imagination could be given a free reign than when writing for the adult market. James Rollins himself says "For Jake, I saved my wildest and best adventure of all".