Author: Stephan Davies

Publication: 2011, Clarion

Pages: 286

Overall Rating: bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]

Rating for Action: bth_35_zps7a173504[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_35_zps7a173504[1]

Age Category: Amazon says 12+, but I’d classify it as 9-12.

Brief Summary: After one too many pranks, Jake Knight finds himself kicked out of boarding school and on the way home to the West African country of Burkina Faso, where his dad is the ambassador.  Jake’s excited about the visit, looking forward to the endless adventures awaiting him in Burkina Faso – adventures he could never find back in boring old Great Britain.  But he gets way more adventure than he’d bargained for when he and his sister are kidnapped by the feared bandit and terrorist, Yakuuba Sor.

Age of Main Character: 15

What I Liked the Most: This is a fun, humorous adventure that introduced me to a country I knew nothing about.  Davies lives in Burkina Faso, and does a wonderful job brining the culture and geography to life- the bustling markets and overcrowded buses, rolling deserts, overcrowded hospitals, streets teeming with men in white robes and Rasta music, and meals of roast goat, dates, and millet.  And he does it all through the eyes of a young man on the hunt for adventure, in love with the strange new world around him.

I don’t often read thrillers with a strong dose of humor woven into them, but in this case I was happy to make an exception.  Davies works with a deft hand, creating a fine balance of humor and action, especially in the person of Yakuuba Sor, who will definitely challenge any preconceptions you might have of a desert outlaw.

What I Liked the Least: Yakuuba Sor is a larger than life character who sometimes feels a bit too good at what he does.  When he’s around it’s often hard to believe that Jake and his sister are in any real danger.  But more than that, he’s such a colorful character that, cool as Jake might be, I sometimes found myself wondering why the story wasn’t really about Yakuuba – why we had to bother with a British lead at all.  Playing the book strictly from Yakuuba’s point of view, and really amping up the stakes and the danger level, might have been a lot of fun.  Maybe there’s another book in that for Mr. Davies – Yakuuba Sor’s origin story.

How Good was the Action? This is fun filled, swashbuckling action rather than the hold onto your seats variety.  There are moments of tension to be sure, some of it quite genuine –but much of the action takes place with tongue firmly in cheek and no doubt about who will triumph.  It’s a merry ride – not bone crushing or scary, just a heck of a lot of fun.

How Engaging was the Story? At first it’s just a lark – Jake having a bit of fun playing an after hours game with his friends, getting suspended, bopping around for a bit in West Africa.  But after the kidnapping the stakes get raised.  It goes from a lark to something a bit more serious.  But even then, Davies manages to infuse the story with a touch of humor as Jake and his sister litter the road behind them with hundreds of chicken bullion wrappers.  He also intersperses the kidnapping with light hearted chapters from the perspective of someone known only as The Chameleon.  You know the two stories are bound to converge, and watching it happen is a lot of fun.  Once Jake and his sister join Yakuuba and head out with him on an adventure across the country, my interest was mostly on Yakuuba’s hijinks, but there’s still a solid conspiracy story to unravel and enough humor and tension to drive the book forward.  I’m not sure I was entirely pleased by the ending, but I was more than happy enough to go along for the ride.

Overall Assessment:  A humorous and action-packed story set in the deserts of West Africa.  It’s a cornucopia of exotic culture, hijinks, and hair-raising escapes.  Marketed to teens, but perfect for middle grade readers.

Profanity: None.

Sex: None.

Violence: Some.  A couple of people do get shot, but overall the violence is pretty minimal.

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