Dear Jack Regan,
You couldn't have known this, but you wrote to ask me to review T'Aragam at the perfect moment. Days away from leaving on a family road trip, I was in need of another audio book to complement The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. And, lo and behold, you were giving away the audio version of your book for free on Podiobooks.
Do you have any idea how many books you bumped past on my review pile with this timing?
My family and I met protagonist Max Ransome while plodding our way through the longest part of the drive through California--that hot stretch of highway where nothing happens. Nothing, that is, unless you're following a funny little fellow named Gramkin on the hunt for some cheese for the annual Medgekin games. The miles flew by as the scary Phantors attacked Max Ransome's family castle, killing his father and sending Max on a trek with the wizard Zohar, Gramkin, and an Eeyore-like monster named Gloom. And your voices, Mr. Regan! There's definitely something to be said for an author reading his own work, when the character voices are so charming and funny.
We got to Grandma and Grandpa's in the middle of chapter seven, and the next day my 8-year-old asked when we could go somewhere in the car again so we could listen to T'Aragam. This after three days of driving.
But you want to know what we didn't love, too, right? Of course you do! We have two beefs with the book.
1: Death. Hey, it's part of life, right? We don't mind a dose of mortality in our fiction. But here's what my kids had to say about the deaths in T'Aragam.
Evan (age 8): Too many people that you like died. It was kind of like, hey I met this new guy! But he's probably gonna die soon.
Ben (age 12): The thing about his father dying, it wasn't really that bad, because you didn't really know him. It seemed like they should have made it more like he was really young when he saw it, like the Phantors had attacked the castle before, when he was like 4 or 5, and his father died to protect him or something.
Me: You mean because then he wouldn't need to be as upset right then?
Ben: Right, it was like "My father died! Well, I'm just gonna go have this adventure."
I don't think there actually were an inordinate number of deaths, but the fact that Evan thought there were is significant, don't you think? In other words, death as a plot device rather than as part of a character arc leaves us unsatisfied. We want it to impact our fictional characters, and us, for more than a few pages.
2. We want some girls! Many boys like their protagonists to be male, and mine are no exception. And in fact, we were so wrapped up in the story that none of us noticed this until it was over. But, of all the people and creatures that Max encounters through his adventure, how many are female?
There's an evil priestess who tries to ruin everything, and there's a cook in the beginning who's quite funny but who we never see again. Even Max's mom doesn't make an appearance.
Evan says: "There should have been a girl that traveled with Max and Gloom and Gramkin."
The fact is, my boys truly appreciate female characters, and so do I. They especially like feisty ones who can stand up for themselves, and they even like a little romance, as long as it's not too flowery or, you know . . . romantic.
To sum up--great story, perfect on audio, and we're all looking forward to the next installment, "Kingdom Heir," scheduled to release in December. Preferably with a girl or two to round out the cast of zany characters, as well as the return of Max, Captain Baggywrinkle, Gloom, and Gramkin.
Thanks for the story,
Ali and her co-reviewers