The Devil’s Breath

The Devil's Breath

Author: David Gilman

Publication: Delacorte Books, 2008

Pages: 416

Overall Rating:  bth_3-star-rating_zps73bdba73[1]                      

Rating for Action: bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_5-star-rating_zps467d5332[1]

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary: Max Gordon is attacked by an assassin while out for a run.  After escaping the attempt on his life he learns that his father, a hydrologist and explorer, has gone missing.  He visits one of his dad’s colleagues and learns that his father had been investigating a powerful businessman named Shaka Chang who lives in a fortress in the deserts of Namibia.

Max contacts his friend Sayed, a computer genius, who gives Max a phone and agrees to search for information and set up a secure way for Max to communicate with him.  Then Max is on his way to Namibia.  After overcoming another attempt on his life at the airport, he meets a young pilot named Kallie Van Reenen.  Along with Kallie and a bushman named !Kogo Max sets off into the desert to search for his father.

The journey brings him face-to-face with Shaka Chang.  Max’s father has uncovered a plot that stands to make Chang enormously wealthy, and he’ll stop at nothing to ensure that it succeeds – even if that means killing Max, his father, and anyone else who stands in his way.  Timing is running out.  If Max can’t uncover Chang’s plot and rescue his father in time they’ll all be dead, and so will thousands of other people.

Age of Main Character: 15

What I Liked the Most: Except for a few brief instances at the end, Max and his friends are almost entirely on their own – taking on a band of vicious criminals with little or no assistance from adults.  For such an action heavy novel, that was perfect.

The book is peppered with beautiful geographic and cultural details.  Through Max and his bushman friend, !Kogo, we learn a lot about Bushman culture and life in the Namibian desert.  Max learns to hunt with a bushman bow and find water in the desert, he sees ancient cave paintings and treks through the bush.  Through his other friend, Kallie, we get a wonderful window onto the life of the white people – descendents of the original Dutch settlers -who still live in the wilds of Namibia.

Perhaps most important, The Devil’s Breath was a creative tale that put Max and his friends up against serious odds.  It’s fast paced, and Gilman doesn’t hesitate to throw some serious challenges at Max, while still coming up with creative and mostly believable ways for him to overcome them.

What I Liked the Least: I never connected with the characters all that well, especially not in the first quarter of the book.  So while there was a lot of action taking place, and a lot of cases where Max barely escaped capture or death, I didn’t necessarily care whether he survived.

About halfway through the book, Max starts developing an ability to shape shift.  This particular story line seriously strained credulity.  It just didn’t buy it, and there wasn’t a solid enough back story to make it believable.  In fact, the back story seemed almost as implausible as the shape shifting itself.  It felt like this was Gilman’s attempt to get Max in touch with the spirit of Africa, but there were other ways he could have done it without resorting to shape shifting – and if he was going to use shape shifting he should have brought a shaman directly into the story, someone to guide Max through the journey and provide a better explanation for what was happening.

The end of the book – especially the final showdown with Shaka Chang – felt a bit silly, a real let down after the non-stop action preceding it.  The showdown again used Max’s strange shape-shifting ability, creating a distance between Max and Shaka Chang that kept me from being afraid for Max.  Given the other confrontations that Max had already had with Chang, I was expecting a hair rising finale in which Max barely got out alive, and that’s not what Gilman delivered.

How Good was the Action?  Excellent.  Whether Max is fighting off thugs, engaged in a high speed chase over rocky terrain, or running from lions the action is fast and filled with great blow-by-blow details.  And it doesn’t come in small doses either.  The book starts off with a bang and rarely lets up.  While there are occasional scenes of quiet reflection, the majority of book consists of near disasters, brushes with death, escapes, chases, fights, and edge-of-your seat action.  The only downside to it all is that I never felt especially attached to most of the characters, and there were many times when I didn’t care what happened to them.  That took the edge off many of the scenes and made them less exciting than they could have been.

How Engaging was the Story?  I didn’t find it to be all that engaging.  As I said, the characters never really drew me in.  I also never bought into the idea that Max was working against a tight deadline to stop Shaka Chang.  Without giving away Chang’s plan, I never understood why he was so desperate to discover if Max’s father had shared the evidence he’d gathered.  From what I understood, everything was already in place.  All Chang had to do was give the order and his plan would have been set in motion.  And once the plan was carried out, everyone would have known Chang was responsible anyway.  That means he could have set it in motion as soon as he learned that Max’s father had collected evidence against him rather than waiting for some pre-arranged start time.  Since I never understood why he was waiting to put the plan into action, I never really felt all that much tension over whether Max would manage to stop him in time.

Overall Assessment: This was fine as an action story.  Max is a tough character who refuses to give up, and Gilman has provided a lot of wonderful insights into life in the deserts of Southern Africa.  But the story is not especially engaging.  If you’re looking for a straight forward action read this is not a bad choice.  But if you want something with a bit of depth, I’d look elsewhere.

Profanity: Little to None

Sex: None

Violence: Yes, but not too much.  There are quite a few fights and people die, but never in a graphic fashion.   For example, someone is eaten by crocodiles, but we’re only told that it’s happened rather than actually seeing it happen.  And when one of Max’s friends is badly beaten up we don’t see it happen either, but know about it because Max catches a small snippet of it happening over a video monitor.  So most of the violence happens at a distance and there is very little blood.

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