Thursday, January 20, 2011

Review: Zan-Gah and Zan-Gah and the Beautiful Country by Allan Richard Shickman

Zan-Gah, seeking his lost twin brother in a savage prehistoric world, encounters adventure, suffering, conflict, captivity, and final victory. In three years hero passes from an uncertain boyhood to a tried and proven manhood and a position of leadership among his people. The prehistoric saga continues in Zan-Gah and the Beautiful Country... in this story, Zan's troubled twin brother, Dael, having suffered greatly during his earlier captivity, receives a ruinous new shock when his wife suddenly dies. His obsession is the destruction of the wasp men, his first captors, who dwell in the Beautiful Country. When he, Zan-Gah, and a band of adventurers trek to their bountiful home, they find that all of the wasp people have died in war or of disease. The Beautiful Country is empty for the taking, and Zan's people, the Ba-Coro, decide to migrate and resettle there. (summaries from goodreads)

I liked that Shickman's writing was intelligent and not dumbed down or gimmicky like a lot of current YA novels seem to be. Instead it uses a mix of action and multi-dimensional characters to pull the reader in. When Zan and the other members of the tribe are preparing to trap a lioness in the first novel, you can feel the ratcheting up of tension as the drums beat and the animal circles the ring of people. In Zan-Gah and the Beautiful Country, Shickman makes you feel Dael's anguish and the pitch of battle as they fight the Noi warriors. However, sometimes I found the writing awkward, like when he describes the living conditions of the prehistoric humans in the first book:  "Darkness was indeed darker to them then, coldness colder, and the cruelest passions somehow crueler and more deeply passionate." This wordiness sometimes worked against the narrative pull of the story.

As a character, Zan is extremely honorable and heroic and always tries to do the right thing. Boys will enjoy how independent he is and how he manages to take care of himself and his friends, and will dream about killing a lion single-handedly, catching fish with their bare hands or fighting off enemies with a weapon of their own imagining. Zan also is able to deal with serious issues with a wisdom beyond his years, like a brother deeply scarred by the loss of his wife and many years in captivity. I thought it was fascinating to have one of the characters struggling with what would now be diagnosed as PTSD. Dael's trauma added a deeper level to the story than just Zan fighting off animals and competing tribes.

Author Allan Richard Shickman
Rating: Zan-Gah and Zan-Gah and the Beautiful Country: 4 out of 5 stars for both. I would recommend these books to anyone who is looking for intelligent and exciting YA novels for a 10-15 year old boy. The violence is not gratuitous and the action will keep them reading past their bedtime, and it tackles issues like trauma and loss in a thoughtful and age-appropriate way.
Source: I received these novels from Earthshaker Books in exchange for my honest review.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for an intelligent and sensitive review. The third book of the Zan-Gah series, Dael and the Painted People, is nearly finished. Watch for it this summer at the new web address:

    I hope you will pay us a visit.

    Allan R. Shickman