Friday, July 2, 2010

Zan-Gah and the Beautiful Country by Allen Richard Shickman - 160 pgs

Book CoverOpening where the first installment left off, Zan-Gah returns home from his journeys after having recovered his twin brother Dael from the pits of torture and slavery. Though Zan wants to live peacefully and start a family, Dael is not so peaceably inclined. When his wife passes away while giving birth to his daughter, Dael becomes both enraged and despondent, making life for everyone in the camp bitter and unpleasant. Even more curiously, Dael seems to direct most of his anger at his brother Zan and those close to him. After repeated attempts to make war and disrupt the lives of the people surrounding him, Dael begins to change dramatically, tattooing symbols onto his body, shaving off all his hair and recruiting a group of fighting men who are as eager to make trouble as he is. Despite Zan's protests, Dael continues to live life as a hothead and soon is putting the entire tribe in serious danger. Will Zan ever be able to make Dael see the errors of his ways, or must the two part company forever? In this second volume of the story of Zan-Gah, two very different brothers must either learn to live alongside one another or forgo each other completely in order for both to survive.

Though this book was ostensibly titled after Zan-Gah, in reality this was more a book about Zan's brother, Dael. I must admit to being a bit more excited about the first book, possibly because I felt that Zan was a much more amiable character. In this book, the action was split between the two men, with most of the action taking place around Dael. This enabled this second installment to be a much darker and more pathos driven read. While I did find Dael's story interesting, I think I much prefer looking at things through Zan's perspective.

One of the things that was interesting about this book was the way that the story really magnified and expanded the consequences of Dael's imprisonment and torture. It was very clear to see that because of his past Dael was traumatized and scarred, and for the most part I don't really even think that he was aware of the brokenness of his spirit. Most of the time Dael expressed himself by being violent, angry and irrational. Though Zan tried to make him see things from a different light, he didn't have much success because there was no way for him to erase the two years that Dael had spent in a cage and at the mercy of another warring tribe. I found it very sad that Dael continued to struggle through the years, and that although his captivity had ended, his heart and mind were left in shreds and tatters, never to be whole again.

As the story moves forward, Zan and Dael's tribe once again comes in contact with another tribe that wishes to make war upon them. In fact, this war only comes about because of Dael's interference, and the reader is left to deduce that had Dael kept a little better control over himself, the two tribes may have learned to coexist peacefully. In fact, there are some very interesting bits about the women of the settlement trying to make peace with the invaders, using the things that they have in common to create a shared intimacy and friendship. Unfortunately this does not go exactly as planned but it was interesting to again see the way that women contributed to the the life of the tribe. It was also very enlightening to read about the various weapons that both tribes used and the way that warfare was perpetrated upon each other. I thought that Shickman did a really wonderful job fleshing out all these aspects of the plot.

In the conclusion of the story, Zan is forced to accept the fact that Dael will be forever changed by the brutality that he has undergone and that Zan's wish for his brother to be the happy and carefree man of long ago is unrealistic. I think Shickman did a great job of dealing with these issues sensitively and with conscience, and instead of painting Dael with the paintbrush of villainy, he comes across as a much maligned and injured man. Though it takes a lot of permutations of the plot for the reader to finally be able to see these things, the conclusion of the book does seem well deserved and justified.

Though I didn't feel that this book was as unilaterally successful as the first in the series, I did end up enjoying the story of Dael's life and circumstances. I think these books would be perfect for middle grade readers and would likely stretch their imaginations and vocabulary to new levels without being pedantic or overly detailed. I had a good time reading these two books and felt that though this book was not as carefree as the first, it did a really good job of highlighting and exploring some of the tougher and more mature issues that it presented. A very worthwhile read.
This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.


bermudaonion said...

Glad you enjoyed it. The series does seem like one that would appeal to young male readers.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I think it's good to have books that show consequences of inhumane treatment - maybe it will make an impression!

Sandy Nawrot said...

I think this is just the type of series that my son would like. He enjoys talking about injustices to others (and himself when I make him do his chores) and loves the conflict. I think I've gotten him spoiled, though, with audio books! The child needs to sit still!

Marie Cloutier said...

Sounds like a great one for boys! :-) Terrific review!

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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