Curse of the Ancients (Infinity Ring 4), by Matt De La Pena, for Timeslip Tueaday

Dak, Sarah, and Riq--three kids from an alternate present time--are on a mission to fix history through time-travel.  If they fail to change the past, there will be no future.  In this installment of their adventures, Curse of the Ancients, by Matt De La Pena (Scholastic, 2013), they travel back to Central America, centuries before the Spaniards arrive.  There they are befriended by the local Mayans, who, to their surprise, behave in a manner not at all in keeping with the bloodthirsty stereotypes the kids had assumed were true.   It becomes clear that the point of this adventure is to keep a particular Mayan codex (a hand-painted book) from being burned by the Spanish, and so the kids hope forward in time and save it (experiencing various dangers along the way).

As in all the books of the series, there's fast-paced action; the pages turn briskly.  The authors are all doing a good job, as well, at making history seem exciting.   There's lot's of kid appeal--not just because of all the excitements, but because the kids are easy for young readers to relate to, and it's easy to share their struggles as they try to figure out what's happening.  Plus the whole time travel premise is founded on geeky gadgetry, which I bet adds appeal.  This installment, though, didn't quite work for me.

With different authors writing each book, it's understandable that there will be variation in the characterization.   Riq comes off rather well here, getting his first, rather poignant, romantic sub-plot. Sarah continues to be her brave, smart self, and it was nice to see her having a chance to appreciate her Mayan ancestry.  But Dak, always somewhat annoying, is truly insufferable here, so much so that he doesn't seem the same person, and that was disappointing.

I don't know enough about the Mayans to comment meaningfully on how they are portrayed, but one thing did bother me.  The kids are supposed to fix history, but as far as I could tell, the only thing being fixed here is popular perception of the Mayans.  If they don't save the Codex, people will not appreciate Mayan civilization and will associate the Mayans primarily with bloodthirsty human sacrifice. But since that's how most people in our actual present think of the Mayans anyway (I think), it doesn't seem like there was a broken bit of history to fix (like Christopher Columbus not being the one to discover America in the first book.  Abraham Lincoln not being president in the third).   It also bothers me that this one codex is so desperately important--there are thousands of Mayan codices still extant, and there's no one Codex in real life (is there?) that is of prime importance.  Maybe I missed something...

(Another thing is starting to bother me about the series as a whole-- maybe it was explained at the beginning of the series, but why do the kids have to get their mission assignments in the form of cryptic clues???  It seems like poor planning on the part of the Hystorians back in the future who set things up. I myself, were I to be sending kids back in time to save a codex, would progam the computer to say "save the codex."   There's also the paradox of time travel--if the kids have already changed the future, how on earth did their missions get programed to begin with...but that's neither a useful or enjoyable (to me at least) subject for contemplation).

Anyway.   I'm all in favor of kids seeing how horrible the Spanish were to the people they conquered, and I am all in favor of spreading the message that burning and destroying the material creations of other civilizations is bad, so I'll recommend it for that.    It also gets points for its multicultural caste (as well as Sarah's Mayan ancestry, Riq is African American), and for being that really rare thing, a fantasy/sci fi book for US kids that's set in Latin America.  And like I said, there is lots of kid appeal....


  1. I've been kind of curious about these big, multi-author series, but not enough to read them. They do hire some big names.

  2. I keep eyeing the series and trying to decide if I should read it or not. It sounds amazing, but I worry about how much of that is just hype. This is the first review I've read, though, so maybe I will have to give it a shot.

    Laureen @ Ms. Bibliophile.

  3. There are lots of books I'd recommend to the grown-up reader before these, so unless you really like time travel sci fi adventure you might not find them as amazing as all get out...though I do think they are great for young readers!

  4. Interesting to hear how the characters' personalities differed slightly. I'm amused by your critique of the planning of the assignments! Those Hystorians apparently were not organized enough.

  5. I also wondered how the multi-author system worked too. I didn't read the 39 Clues series, but I was curious about it and this series.

  6. I can see the kid appeal based off the 39 Clues series, but I was somewhat disappointed that the books kinda assume the kids know about the event/person or theme they are about. At least that was my experience with the first. I had hoped that there would have even been a facts to know at the end of the book or a bibliography or something IMHO.

    1. You are absolutely right, Brenda--at least a few facts and dates would be tremendously valuable, especially since there is both real and un-real history happening in the books. I felt the lack myself with this one. I really wanted to be told that there was indeed some special codex that plays a huge role in our perception of the Mayans (and even did some google searching, to no avail), and I could have used a few dates...


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