Monday 6 September 2010

Review: Maze of Death by Philip Caveney

1925. Crete.

After the terrors of Egypt and Mexico, a trip to Crete seems to offer Alec, Ethan and Coates a rare chance to relax – but an encounter with mysterious millionaire Tobias Wolfe brings them a tempting invitation to his private island, where he promises them a rare opportunity to visit its incredible archaeological treasures. But not all the island’s secrets are so inviting....

Upon arrival, the three friends and their fellow visitors are taken captive and subjected to a series of tests of skill and stamina, all inspired by the myths and legends of Ancient Greece.

As the ‘games’ become ever more deadly, a desperate struggle for survival ensues – and Alec must face his own terrifying challenge, deep in the dark heart of the labyrinth.

Alec Devlin is back in his third adventure. If you have not yet come across Philip Caveney's books about his young adventurer then you have some catching up to do. The first book in the series, The Eye of the Serpent, introduced to Alec as he travelled to meet up with his archaeologist uncle, only to find himself up against the spirit of an ancient and powerful High Priest. Book two, Empire of the Skull, had Alec involved in a plane crash deep in the Mexican jungle, and then fighting for his life against a long lost tribe of Aztec warriors. Alec is the sort of boy who finds trouble wherever he goes; despite being headstrong and something of a risk taker it is not always his fault that he and his valet Coates seem to find themselves up against the nastiest of villains whenever they go away together.

In the Maze of Death, Alec and Coates have travelled to Crete. Alec is soon to start university, studying anthropolgy, and despite the scrapes he has got into in the previous books he has presuaded his never-present father that he should be allowed to go to the Mediterranean island to see the excavations at Knossos and learn a little more about the ancient Minoan civilization. Accompanying them is Ethan Wade, a brash american who Alec met in his first adventure and who has since become Alec's (much needed) bodyguard. Despite promises to his father about staying out of trouble, it isn't long before the group find themselves up against a particularly nasty foe, the mysterious millionaire Tobias Wolfe, and boy is he one vicious villain. Alec has met evil before but Wolfe has to be the worst so far - he is clearly insane in that he believes he is the reincarnation of the ancient King Minos, and he uses other humans as entertainment in games and tests that resemble something out of the SAW movies.

The Alec Devlin books are great for the 9+ age group. Yes they are violent at times, but there is rarely anything too graphic, and we all know that boys love a little blood in their stories. I really enjoyed The Eye of the Serpent, and found it very Young Indiana Jones-esque, although I did not enjoy Empire of the Skull quite as much as I found it a little too predictable. Maze of Death, however is a return to form for Philip Caveney. The main characters have now formed a close bond that is believable and laced with humorous banter, and the secondary characters are all well used in the story. The plot is fast-paced and taps into a love that many boys of this age share - ancient Greek mythology, including both the Icarus/Daedalus story and the ever-popular legend of Minotaur. in its labyrinth (the maze of death of the book's title).

Philip Caveney is an author who knows what appeals to young boys and in Maze of Death he certainly delivers. As I mentioned in my recent review for Return to the Lost World, the 1920s is a great era in which to base an adventure story, before the advent of the micro-chip and silly gadgets, and the hero has to rely solely on his wits and the everyday items around him, and this time period is perfect for this story as well. I do have one small moan however - Alec is now two years older than he was in the first book, and there were many moments where I felt his character had not matured enough since The Eye of the Serpent, especially considering the harrowing near-death experiences he has faced since then. With this in mind, as he is about to enter University, I am left wondering whether another book in the series will work or has the series already come to a natureal end?

My thanks go to the publisher for sending me a copy to review, all three books in the series are in print and should be available in all good book shops.

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