The Jaguar Stones, Book 1: Middleworld by J&P Voelkel 2010
IQ "I believe in second chances, Son. What has happened before will happen again. But this time, you can change the outcome." Lady Coco pg. 298
Max Murphy is supposed to be traveling to Italy with his parents over the summer. However, his archaeologist parents cancel the trip to Italy so that they can go to San Xavier (which is a fictional country based off of Belize) without Max. Max is beyond upset at this and he intends to make his parents regret their decision, but then they ask him to join them. When Max arrives in San Xavier, he learns that his parents have vanished. In San Xavier Max meets his kid-hating, smuggling uncle Ted, Lola (a Mayan girl who is brave and quick on her feet) and some other interesting characters. With the help of Lola, Max learns about the Jaguar Stones. These five stones of Middleworld ("the ancient Maya name for the world of men" from back cover) are extremely powerful so they can not fall into the wrong hands. Max needs to find his parents and save the world.
Mayan mythology is a complex topic to handle (says the non-Mayan expert) so I really admire the authors for creating this story and explaining aspects of Mayan culture in such a fun and pretty easy to understand way. A few times I did get lost. There's a lot going on, not just with all the Mayan culture references but also with other storylines. Sometimes I would forget who was who when they were talking about all the Mayan gods but that's not too big a deal. The older reader in me didn't always appreciate the translations. For example, Lola would say something in Mayan and then right after she would say it in English. I understood why she would do that, for Max's sake but other characters did that as well and that annoyed me. I would rather figure out the meaning of the words from the context or a glossary in the back. However, I understand that it was probably included for younger readers who may not have the patience or desire to figure it out on their own.
Other than things I pointed above, I really enjoyed this novel. The artwork is great, especially on the title page. The artwork enhances the book, it allows readers to better visualize the ruins of Mayan architecture. By the end of the book I was ready to throttle Friar Diego de Landa. And he called himself a priest! Gah. The characters were all genuine. Max is a complete brat and that doesn't change over night. "You are like a burrowing snake, confined in your own little world. It is time to take wing, Max Murphy, to soar far and wide like a hawk in the sky." (Chan Kan, pg. 180). [Random Tidbit: Whenever Chan Kan came on the scene I though the words read Chaka Khan and I would stare at the page in disbelief. Oh yes, I'm crazy]. Even though Max was a brat and I wanted someone to smack him, I think Lola and others did a good job of telling him off. I found his reactions completely realistic (when it came to the magical/adventurous aspects of the story), he was scared out of his mind half the time and often skeptical of what people told him. I would react the same way for the most part, some of what Max is told borders on the ridiculous and would be hard for any 14 year old to believe. Lola is awesome and I really want to know more about her and her past. Lady Coco and Lord 6-Rabbit are equally great, they are so crazy. Hermanjillo (herman-hee-lio) is eccentric to say the least and I wasn't expecting his storyline, but it makes total sense.
Middleworld is an imaginative, action packed story filled with hazardous events. The characters are all hiding something (well Max isn't really but there's more to him than meets the eye) which keeps the readers guessing about the motives behind certain actions. The story is well researched and you get a real feel for Central America; the weather, the food, the people, etc. I liked the mentions of 2012 and how no archaeological evidence has been found to support the idea that Mayans thought the world would in 2012. Like I said, I understood most of what was going on and the ending left me desperately wanting more. It's not a complete cliffhanger, if you don't like the book (which I doubt) you could finish it and not feel compelled to read the rest of the series. However, there are still some secrets (like what is the deal with Zia? I need to know!) This is going to be a fun series, I can tell. I can't wait to see what's next in store for Massimo Francis Sylvanus Murphy (Max) and Ix Sak Lool (Eesh Sock Lowell aka Lola).
Disclosure: Received from publicist. Thanks Jennifer!
PS Definitely check out the amazing website. It has reviews, Mayan info links and photo albums from the author's travels.