HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Jake Ransom and the Skull King’s Shadow
Author: James Rollins
Illustrator: Joel Tippie
Publisher: HarperCollins, reprinted in 2010
ISBN-13: 978-0061473791 Hardcover
ISBN-10: 0061473790 Hardcover
ISBN-13: 978-0061473814 Paperback
ISBN-10: 0061473812 Paperback
Language level: 1
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Ages 8 – 12
Rating: ***** 5 stars (EXCELLENT)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Rollins, James. Jake Ransom and the Skull King’s Shadow (published in 2009 by HarperCollins Children’s Books, a division of HarperCollins Publishers, 10 E. 53rd St., New York City, NY 10022). Jacob Bartholomew (Jake) Ransom, a 13-year-old eighth grader at Middleton Prep middle school, lives with his archaeologist parents Richard and Penelope, his older sister Katherine Edwina (Kady) who is a tenth grader at Middleton Prep senior high, and their basset hound Watson, at Ravensgate Manor in North Hampshire, CT. However, Mr. and Mrs. Ransom, along with Dr. Henry Bethel, have been missing and presumed dead after their archaeological dig to study the classic period of Mayan civilization at Montana de Huesos, or the Mountain of Bones, in the Yucatan Peninsula was attacked by bandits three years ago. Jake and Kady are being cared for by Mr. and Mrs. Batchelder, the managers of Ravensgate, whom the children call Uncle Edward and Aunt Mathilda. As spring break draws near, a mysterious envelope arrives for Jake and Kady with an invitation to attend a British Museum showing in London, England, in honor of their parents.
While they are there, a two-foot-tall solid gold pyramid, an artifact found by their parents on the expedition from which they never returned, plunges the two young people into a strange world called Calypsos inhabited by a peculiar mix of long-lost civilizations, including Neanderthals, Mayans, Romans, Vikings, and Egyptians, among others, along with various kinds of dinosaurs. It is ruled by three high councilors, the Roman Tiberius, the Viking Astrid Ulfsdottir, and the Chinese Wu, who are assisted by three magisters, the Mayan Balam, the Egyptian Zahur, and the medieval English Oswin. They also befriend some kids their own ages, the pretty Mayan girl Marika, daughter of Balam, the Roman boy Pindor, son of Tiberius, and the Neanderthal serving boy Bach’uuk. However, there is an enemy, Kalvernum Rex or the Skull King, a banished former magister of Calypsos who threatens to return and attack it, and he apparently has a helper inside. At first, Jake and Kady are accused of being his spies. Exactly where is Calypsos, and how did the two get there? Can they find any information about their parents? Will they survive and be able to return home? And who is the traitor?
This exciting fantasy-adventure story is like what might happen if young Indiana Jones found himself in Dinotopia fighting a Lord of the Rings type of epic battle. The euphemistic “heck” is used a few times, and Pindor exclaims, “What in Hades’ fire?”, but no cursing or profanity occurs. There are references to people drinking champagne at the museum reception and to “millions of years ago.” Some may feel that the plot is somewhat clichéd and maybe even requires too much suspension of belief to swallow. But hey, it’s fantasy for ten to thirteen year olds, and I believe that most junior high readers, especially those who are reluctant or put a premium on action, should like it. I know that I enjoyed reading it. James Rollins (James Paul Czajkowski) is a New York Times bestselling author of the Sigma Force series and other adult adventure novels blending science and history. This is his first novel for young adults. And it is Book 1 of the Jake Ransom series. The next installment is Jake Ransom and the Howling Sphinx (2012). And there are rumors of a possible third book.