Jake Atlas and the Tomb of the Emerald Snake by Rob Lloyd Jones
Publisher: Walker Books
Genre: Middle Grade Chapter Book (9+)
TOTAL RATING: 2.8 STARS
Reading the blurb I was getting mega vibes of a Middle Grade Indiana Jones and I was super excited about that.
What I got was an annoying, bratty protagonist with the agency of some debris floating down the Nile, who’d constantly let us known he was 12 (and a half) but could take out a dozen trained mercenaries!!!
Jake Atlas is a kid who can’t help but steal things and this gets him in constant trouble and is a constant pain to his parents who worry about him. When, on the way to a holiday/working vacation to Egypt for his parents to deliver a seminar in American University of Cairo, he steals a computer tablet which comes to life with a mysterious face that helps him escape airport security.
When the Atlas’ get to Cairo, his parents go missing and the Atlas twins (Jake and Pandora… random name much) go searching for them and stumble into their parent’s old colleague Kit Thorn and a plot that’s… well… should be action packed and ends up majorly flat.
Obviously, I have to think about this book about it’s primary audience. If you are a 12 year old then the idea of a badass action hero kid would seem pretty cool and Jake follows the traditional action hero – No training but can somehow do awesome things – trope to a tee and while I was prepared to let that slide, he bounced so wildly from useless regular kid to ultimate super-spy/treasure hunter hero like a electrocardiogram on steroids.
The author clearly wanted to make this Spy Kids meets Indiana Jones story and obviously ground the kids as regular, relatable characters, but Jake’s character narrates the story in this annoying 1st person view that tells a lot more than it shows and for anybody trying to write a story knows, you want to show more than you tell, but I didn’t get that from this book.
The pacing was actually pretty good. Short, sharp action scenes. Short, concise chapters. All help keep the pacing on point, but is hurt thanks to the constant being told what’s happening and dragging nature of the story’s style of “We need to do/find/grab X. Now let me explain X because my parents are clever Egypt historians and I’ve learnt what that means.” (His sister Pandora, called Pan serves this purpose for the entire story. Being SUPER clever. She’s smart enough to regurgitate facts whenever the plot needs, but naive enough to not try and do something practical.
Parents go missing? Go to where they should be teaching = clever.
After that, go on a wild goose chase instead of talking to police = stupid.
It was little details like this which made this story drag and therefore, I ended up skim reading the last 1/3 of the book just to get it over with as much of the paragraphs were fluff around a story that could have been awesome but was only “meh, not too bad.”
Final Thoughts – A book that will be as forgotten as much as the rest of ancient Egyptian history. (shame really)