Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Cryptid Hunters (Roland Smith)

Cryptid Hunters
(The Cryptid Hunters series, Book 1)
Roland Smith
Fiction, YA Adventure/Fantasy
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: Thirteen-year-old twins Marty and Grace O'Hara seem like polar opposites. Marty's bold to the point of recklessness, a constant headache to the headmaster of their Swiss boarding school, while bookish Grace is shy, prone to fainting spells when frightened and nightmares she can never remember. Despite their differences, they're deeply devoted to one another, as they have been ever since their parents sent them overseas to school. But a helicopter crash in the Amazon changes everything. The O'Haras are missing, presumed dead. A relative they've never heard of, Uncle Wolfe, fetches the children from Switzerland to his home on Cryptos Island, off the Pacific Northwest coast... but there's much more going on here than meets the eye, and secrets on Cryptos that none of the strange grown-ups on the island will tell them. It turns out Wolfe is a cryptozoologist: a seeker of hidden animals, unknown to science. His chief rival is popular nature show host and conservationist Noah Blackwood, whose global wildlife parks serve as a cover for his illegal hunting and poaching operations. Just as Marty and Grace show up, Wolfe rushes off to the Congo, trying to beat Blackwood to the elusive Mokele-mbembe, a small sauropod-like cryptid... a chase the twins inadvertently find themselves in the middle of when they get dropped with a cargo capsule into the deadly African jungle.

REVIEW: I found this for a buck at a clearance sale, and was actually considering putting it in the cull pile: books I've bought on impulse but don't expect I'll get around to reading. But I decided to give it a quick try... and found myself unexpectedly drawn in. Marty and Grace start out as collections of middle-grade tropes: he's impulsive and fearless (except a somewhat pointless fear of ghosts), always getting into trouble yet somehow getting away with it, while Grace has a list of fears into the triple digits and clings to her battered stuffed bunny like a lifesaver despite her prodigious intelligence. Other characters generally align with genre expectations, as well. Yet somehow it manages to click together into a compelling tale of adventure and mystery and peril, and they all (save the baddies, naturally) manage to become somewhat more rounded characters as the story progresses. Some too-convenient plot elements and lingering cliches, plus some significant loose threads deliberately left dangling at the end (it is Book 1 of a series, after all) just barely held it back in the ratings, but on the whole it was an unexpectedly fun adventure. Younger readers, particularly those looking for a good, red-blooded yarn with real danger and few false punches, will likely enjoy it more. I'd consider picking up Book 2 if I found it cheap enough... and this time, it won't go to the cull pile.
As a closing note, one of the reasons I considered passing on this was the generic cover. I know you're not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but let's be honest: we all do it, and if covers weren't important, publishers wouldn't invest so much time and money designing them. They're the first impression one has of a book, after all. This one, however, has almost nothing at all to do with the story inside: it shows an iguana, what it claims is a Velociraptor, and a baboon, while the closest the story itself manages is a green mamba snake, a distinctly non-Velociraptor cryptid, and a bonobo ape. The story deserved better representation, here.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Cryptozoology A - Z (Loren Coleman and Jerome Clarke) - My Review
The Lost World (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) - My Review
Jake Ransom and the Skull King's Shadow (James Rollins) - My Review

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