Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Zan-Gah: A Prehistoric Adventure by Allan Richard Shickman - 160 pgs

Book CoverIn this new YA adventure story, a young boy living in a primitive era discovers the savage world around him and the budding humanity he carries inside. Zan is only eleven years old when his village goes out in pursuit of the terrible beast that has killed one of the village children. Despite his fear, Zan emerges from the hunt as the sole victor and is given the name Zan-Gah (Zan of the Rock) as a mark of the honor that he has won. But Zan's life is far from complete, for his twin brother has gone missing and has not been seen in the past two years. Feeling tremendously guilty for his possible role in his brothers absence, Zan-Gah goes in search of his missing sibling, finding danger, treachery and violence along his way. Will Zan ever see his brother Dael again? Will he even survive his desperate journey? Young readers will find themselves pondering all these questions while learning a plethora about primitive life in this thrilling and unusual tale of a brave boy's fight for survival.

I don't read many YA titles. I am not exactly sure why that is, but somehow I always think that I won't be able to relate to the characters of the story. Then an opportunity comes along to broaden my reading horizons and I begin to ask myself why I have arbitrarily been holding myself back from genres that I am unfamiliar with. Such was the case with this book. I went into the book expecting to find that the story and characters would be elementary representations of what I would normally find in adult literature, but what I found instead pleased me greatly.

First off, I really felt that Zan-Gah himself was a wonderfully crafted character. He was very believable and had some pretty complex emotional reactions to his environment. Instead of being a one-dimensional cutout, Zan wondered and deduced a lot about himself and the people he was living with, recognizing not only the flaws within himself, but lovingly understanding the ones he saw in those who surrounded him. A lot of his behavior in the later sections of the book were a direct result of the guilt that he was feeling about his brother having gone missing. I think a lot of young adult readers will relate to and understand Zan's feelings of guilt and its repercussions. I also think that the guilt that drove him was a plausible motivator in which to propel the narrative, and felt that it made Zan a really sympathetic character.

I also thought that the action/adventure aspects of the story were very meticulously plotted and developed. It didn't feel like the narrative was overcrowded with action but instead that it was paced more sparingly and believably. I think it would have been a mistake to assume that the book had to jump from action scene to action scene just to keep a younger audience enveloped in the story, and I very much appreciated the meat and thorough mix of background, action and character development that made up the narrative. Another thing I liked about the action scenes was the fact that they were very believable. There were not a lot of fantastical elements in this story. This made the story seem like it had a bit more gravity and relevance, which I also appreciated.

Though I have not read a lot of fiction set in the prehistoric era, I found that the author fleshed out his setting well and provided a lot of detail about the time in question. There were explanations of the ways in which food was gathered, hunted and cooked, and various facts about the way people lived their day to day lives. The topic of warfare between clans was also given much attention and the author necessarily included pertinent information about weapons and battle as well. I think that the most interesting aspects of life during that time was the look into the life of the women of the group. Though they were mostly separated from the men most of the time, they had a certain way of making their presence and opinions known. Ultimately, I felt that all aspects of this story were fully realized and explored with a lot of attention to detail.

I think that this would be a great read for young readers, but also for adults who might enjoy a look at prehistoric life. I think the author did a wonderful job with the characters and setting and I found the adventures that Zan went on to be full of interesting twists and turns. Reading this book was a pleasant diversion from some of the heavier books I have been reading lately, and though it was short, there was a lot packed into this tale. I would definitely recommend this book to a variety of readers and think that it might make a nice summer read for those looking for something a little different.

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.


Jeane said...

I usually avoid YA books too, but I also like to read about prehistoric times, and this one sounds well-written. I'm going to add it to my TBR list, thanks to you!

bermudaonion said...

I'm glad you liked it - I wasn't too sure about the prehistoric setting, so I skipped it. Now, I'm re-thinking that.

Aarti said...

Like bermudaonion, I really hesitated about the setting of this book (and the title, I admit). But it seems like I worried for nothing- so glad you enjoyed it and that you were able to happily go beyond your reading horizons!

Jenny said...

I like YA but I do not like prehistoric settings. I haven't read very many books set that far back, but, I don't know, prehistory seems all dusty and boring.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Really nice, thoughtful analysis! I have come to love YA books - I think the category designation is unfortunate because, while they definitely are different than "adult" books, they also definitely have adult appeal.

earthshakerbooks said...

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

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