New Lands, by Geoff Rodkey (Putnam, May 2013), is the second book of the Chronicles of Egg. In the first book, Deadweather and Sunrise (my review), we were introduced to a fictional version of Caribbean/Central American colonialism, in which a boy named Egg (short for Egbert) finds himself (after various adventures) the only person in the world in possession of a map that leads to an ancient, magical treasure of one of the native tribes on the continent (he memorized it, and destroyed the original to keep it safe). And an unscrupulous colonial oppressor type, Roger Pembroke (the sort that has native slaves working in his silver mines) wants the treasure.
New Lands sees Egg and his comrade Guts (they became friends on a pirate ship) setting off for the continent, to find the Okalu tribe who can interpret the map. But when they reach the mainland, they find that the Okalu have been almost destroyed by slave trading at the hands of a rival tribe...the mission seems hopeless.
Then they meet Kira, one of the lost Okalu. She can't interpret the map, but she can lead them to her homeland. But Pembroke is after Egg, and will stop at nothing to capture him. His daughter, Millicent (love of young Egg's life) has followed Egg to the mainland to warn him.
Now Egg, Guts, Kira and Millicent are racing to find the Okalu, hotly pursued and in danger of their lives....can they find the lost treasure, which can bestow tremendous power on the one who possesses it, before the evil Pembroke finds them?
It's character rich adventure of an exciting sort, with a nice mix of suspenseful bits and amusing bits. And though there's no actual magic, the alternate world is a fascinating place, though perhaps to close to real world colonialism to make for comfy reading...
Rodkey does a good job, I thought, at portraying the native peoples--they have agency, and aren't just passive victims of the colonial encounter. And Kira is a very fine example of a stalwart, skilled, brave girl; she is far more than a stereotypical native guide, and she saves the day on many occasions in very practical ways. Ethical questions about colonialism and slavery are raised, making the reader stop and think, but they don't weigh the story down.
My favorite character by far was Guts--I can't think of any other fictional boy quite like him. Though he lost a hand to a brutal pirate, he doesn't let that stop him--whether it's saving the day through his mad guitar skills (strumming with his hook), or keeping things humming with his defiant, in your face attitude, he adds considerable zest to the story. Millicent, my favorite character from the first book, plays only a minor role here, but it's interesting to see the development of her relationship with Egg (will young love triumph over societal expectations? Can Millicent, daughter of the bad guy, really be trusted?). I think Rodkey is a bit to quick to forgive some unsympathetic characters from the first book, but that's my only real quibble with regards to character.
I didn't love it for myself as a reader--I'm not really the non-stop adventure, here we go escaping death over and over as we crash through unknown lands, type--but I did find it a brisk and entertaining read. And it's easy to imagine the target audience enjoying the series lots. Clearly there's more to come, but this book stops at a good stopping point.
Question: can one count New Lands as an example of diverse speculative fiction for kids? Kira, who's Okalu, is such a strong, central character that I want to count her. Rodkey doesn't make racial prejudice part of his narrative, so there's no dark skinned/light skinned dichotomy thing going on--Kira is not a clear "character of color." On the other hand, its clear that in this world, as in ours, "civilized" people from far away are exploiting the native people, like Kira's tribe. So does this make Kira, by extension, a diverse, non-white, non-European character????
disclaimer: ARC received from publisher