The Roads of Luhonono: Legend of the East Road
Gimbo is an energetic, quick-thinking, inquisitive twelve-year-old, learning the traditional warrior ways of his African tribe. His best friend is Magdalene, just a year older, an American raised in Africa by her Native American, shamanistic mother. When Peter, a strong, athletic Australian boy moves to their village, the three immediately become inseparable. But their childish adventures quickly lead them into something much more sinister. Magdalene has learned from her mother the reality of the unseen world and Peter’s presence seems to enhance Mag’s mystical connection, giving her insight and visions that are clearer and more intense than anything she’s experienced before.
After the children stumble onto some elephant poachers, Mag is given a vision: the new roads being built by white settlers through their village are disturbing the Unseen who, because of this, are now returning to the Crossroads there. Moja, an evil witchdoctor, wants to control all Luhonono; Mags, Gimbo, and Peter have to stop him by getting control of the legend spirits before he can transform the Unseen into a Demon army under his control. The relationship between the characters is the most delightful part of this exciting story. Mags, Gimbo, and Peter have an excellent rapport, and they are wonderfully complementary to each other. Gimbo and Peter have a friendly rivalry that rings true for their age, yet they trust each other implicitly. Mags is inexplicable to the boys, both for her mystical wisdom and for her femininity, but they admire and respect her power and abilities. Mags leads with her visions, Peter accepts any challenge, and Gimbo’s cultural and bush craft understanding bridges the gaps between their different worlds. All of the children are confident in their own strengths, recognize their own limitations, and understand the value of working as a team. The lack of discord among the children may seem unrealistic to older or more cynical readers, but this perfect friendship is refreshing, pure and innocent and will enchant this book’s tween audience.
Mags is a mystical being, and Gimbo has been steeped in tribal belief since infancy. Peter is sceptical at first, but soon has no choice but to believe in the unseen world. Some readers may be disturbed by some frightening scenes of shamanistic rituals and conjuring, or by the descriptions of Peter’s spiritual journey and transformation. These rituals are reality in this story, and the magic is more intense and dark than in many other fantasy books for this age. Potions and rites use human blood, animal urine, mud and plants and potent spells, and these are performed by both the evil Moja and our good heroine Mags. This of course is in accord with the main theme of the book – that the unseen spirits can be pulled either for good or for evil, not that they (or any particular rite) is one or the other in and of itself – but it may be distressing and scary, particularly for younger readers.
This book is the first in a planned series, and, although as such, it takes some time explaining the stage, readers are given whispers about the conflict immediately, and hints and foreshadowing are used to great effect to keep the reader asking – what next? It quickly hits its writing stride, and by the end is impossible to put down. The final conflict is heart-pounding, with Peter, Mags, and Gimbo navigating a life-threatening ritual that ultimately proves Mags’ abilities as a powerful shaman. It concludes with a natural break in the children’s lives, leaving the villain safely restrained while the children return to their childish pursuits for a time; a satisfying ending that is a welcome pause before the exhilaration of the next stage in their adventure.
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