For those who are not familiar with The Jaguar Stones series, by J & P Voelkel, its the story of what happens when the Mayan Death Lords seek to get their greedy little supernatural hands of death on the five Jaguar Stones that will let them unleash an apocalypse of doom on humanity. Two kids, Max from Boston, the child of archaeologists who are experts on Mayan culture, and Lola, who is Mayan, are basically all that's standing in their way, desperately keeping the fifth of the Jaguar Stones safe.
In The River of No Return, the third book of the series, Max and Lola return to the jungle...and find the Death Lords eager as all get out to get their little undead hands on the fifth stone. In a series of harrowing, yet humorous, adventures (mainly set in a hotel of Mayan Death Doom), Max and Lola find themselves cast as the divine twin heroes who long ago defeated the Death Lords. However, in as much as Max and Lola are not divine hero twins, things get a bit tricky....rather gruesomely!
Oh gosh. How to "review" this without resorting to adjectival cliches? (such as: action packed, thrilling, gripping, rip-roaring, laugh-out-loud, kid/boy-friendly). Fortunately for my own reading taste, all these cliches come in a story that has narrative coherence and interesting characters, and although it perhaps tilts slightly too much toward the farcical for my taste (tapir pee for the win!), I still enjoyed it lots. Not, you know, enjoyed it in a "this is a life-changing book of transcendent beauty" way, but more "that was a fun read."
And it's always a nice change to read a (cliche being used alert) rip-roaring, action packed fantasy that draws on a non-European tradition. Quick--how many other Mayan inspired fantasy adventure stories for kids (written in English) can you think of? Answer: arguably Summer of the Mariposas. Arguably Sea of the Dead. Then silence from me (if you can think of others, let me know!).
Additional bonus points:
1. I like the pro-environment message. I think cutting down the rainforest is sub-optimal.
2. I like the educational glossary. Learning is good.
3. Though the story is told from Max's point of view, Lola is a worthy heroine of the Strong Girl type. That being said, Max is less annoying in this book, which is good, but Lola is still the brains of the team (this isn't all that hard, though Max is making progress).
4. A nice jaguar, for readers looking for nice jaguars.
5. (Possibly a bonus) disgusting food and gore, for readers looking for disgusting food (both man-made--pizza gelato, and supernatural--Death Lord cuisine) and gore (of a festering kind, rather than characters getting gorily disemboweled or what have you).
Here are my reviews of book 1: Middleworld (which I called (sigh) "a fun, fast read") and book 2: The End of the World Club ("exciting reading").
disclaimer: review copy of this thrilling page-turner received from the publisher at BEA