This review was first published in Resource Links Magazine, “Canada’s national journal devoted to the review and evaluation of Canadian English and French resources for children and young adults.” It appears in volume 17.5.
Amos Daragon: The Key of Braha
Amos Daragon: The Key of Braha, second in Bryan Perro’s “bestselling twelve-book children’s series” (dustjacket), is a complicated narrative reminiscent of Garth Nix’s Grim Tuesday or Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series. The language and characterization, however, and especially the humour, seem aimed at a younger reading audience, one too young to fully grasp the political machinations driving the plot. The problem lies perhaps the translation—there must be better phrases than “positive gods” and “negative gods” for whatever the French is, for example (3-4)—but other characteristics of the text suggest that the writing itself was lacking in the original.
The plot is interesting, and I must say that the dénouement almost redeems the novel, but unfortunately not quite. The Key of Braha is a legendary key that will purportedly open the gates to “paradise” and “hell” (2) from the City of the Dead, Braha, where souls are judged. The doors have been sealed, and it will take a mortal who descends to the underworld and yet lives—or lives again—to unlock the mystery and the doors. Through the complex intrigues that provide the novel’s greatest interest, Amos Daragon is manipulated into this role. His search for the truth of what is happening to him is a well-constructed plot, but his characterization does not support the intelligence his author claims for him.
Amos Daragon’s cleverness in this novel does not rise to the level of the more experienced young reader: although King Junos claims that Amos is “wiser than most of my white-bearded advisors” (25), the ways in which he “tricks” his opponents are—in youthful parlance—lame. When a dead soul has no coin to offer Charon, Amos argues: “this man has nothing to pay their fare, well, I’ll pay if for him. In fact, if you allow them on the boat, I’ll offer you twice nothing” (49), a ruse which works, and is thus the first of many instances where the reader is amazed not at Amos’s brilliance so much as the stupidity of his adversaries. The three riddles he has to solve are equally unimpressive, as is his trick in stealing a golden spoon to prove himself the best thief in the city, or the argument that gains him the key in the end: “You were to keep the key until the light of the candle went off on its own,” the keeper of the key complained; “Yes, but I just blew it out. Therefore it did not go off by itself” is Amos’s “clever” rejoinder (155-6). This level of trickery is amusing to primary school children, perhaps, but the Ragnarök plot that Perro has created is more appropriate for the more mature intermediate or middle school student.