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On The Nightstand

Welcome to On The Nightstand, a book review blog run by an avid reader named Catherine. She reads a variety of things, but loves in particular fantasy, paranormal and historical fiction. She loves introducing others to books from her home country of New Zealand and pointing out which books have finally made it to our shores. Also vampires.

The Serpents Of Arakesh, by V.M. Jones

Title: The Serpents Of Arakesh
Author: V.M. Jones
Genre: Fantasy, New Zealand
Publisher: HarperCollins New Zealand
Copy Origin: Review copy courtesy of HarperCollins New Zealand
New Zealand Readers: Fishpond, MightyApe
International Readers: The Book Depository, IndieBound

Adam Equinox was abandoned on the doorstep of Highgate Orphanage 12 years ago. He has no idea who – or where – his parents are; no friends; nothing he′s good at; and nowhere he really belongs.

One day, reeling from yet another visit to the principal′s office, he notices Cameron Haig′s unusual bookmark. It′s the entry form for the Quest Golden Opportunity Competition, a competition Adam – along with 40,000 other kids – would love to win. Adam doesn′t seem to stand a chance. until Cameron gives him his ticket.

Unbelievably, Adam is chosen as one of the finalists. But it′s only when he and his four companions begin the gaming workshop that Quentin Quested reveals why they are really there – and launches them on a real- life quest into the parallel world of Karazan, where the Serpents of Arakesh stand guard over the most precious prize of all.

I was asking various people for recommendations of more New Zealand young adult books (especially fantasy and science fiction), and when The Serpents of Arakesh – the first book of the Karazan Quartet – was suggested I knew I wanted to give it a try. It may be a little more middle grade than what I normally read, but anything that is (what I refer to as) “gamer fantasy” is definitely all right by me.

While reading The Serpents of Arakesh, there is a lot that seems rather familiar – five different children of various backgrounds brought together via a contest very clearly has a similarity to a famous work by Roald Dahl, while its riddle-guided quest made me think of such works as Brian Jacques’s Redwall series – however when one considers the target audience and the nature of this story I think that familiarity really makes it work. The Serpents of Arakesh is not overtly (or even strongly) tropperific but it still uses and enjoys them, thus making the story easy to jump into, and characters and setting familiar. It does not rely on the tropes though, giving the characters and setting enough personality and description to really come alive.

There was one thing that kind of gnawed at me while I was reading The Serpents of Arakesh though. It is narrated in first person by the main character, a twelve year old boy who is very poorly literate. He is a very bright boy, as evidenced by his actions and leadership abilities, just not very good at things like reading and writing. Even disregarding his level of literacy, Adam just sounds a little too mature in his narrative voice than would be expected of a boy his age. Sometimes he would sound quite appropriate, and then he would use a word or a phrase that would throw me right out of the spell.

Apart from my one issue with the voice of the narrator, The Serpents of Arakesh is a clever little middle-grade fantasy, with a neat little premise and a wonderful cast of characters. Although this is the first of a quartet, The Serpents of Arakesh ties its story up very well indeed, with just enough of a sequel hook to, well, hook you into wanting the next one.