Book Review: The Secret of Sinbad’s Cave

The-Secret-of-Sinbads-Cave-Cover.2 by Brydie Walker Bain

Description per author: Nat Sheppard’s world is turned upside down on the first day of the school holidays by the discovery of a secret room containing cave maps with clues to an ancient treasure. But Nat and her friends soon discover they’re not the only ones chasing the jewels. Professional treasure hunters are on the trail – and they’re prepared to eliminate anyone in their way.

Book Review: When Brydie Walker Bain offered for me to read the first of The Natnat Adventures, I was quite excited. I always relish the opportunity to read books by authors outside the United States, and, having read novels from Canada and India, I was eager to expand my repertoire to include New Zealand. (And, all this aside, the book looked intriguing.)

And the novel lived up to my expectations. There were a number of words I had to look up (gum boots, milo, morpork, totara…the list went on and on), and there seemed to be a fair bit of interaction with the Māori  customs and mysticism (at least, I’m attributing some of the native characters as reflecting their culture, but for all I know, they could be completely unrepresentative). There were interactions with the patupaiarehe, a kind of New Zealand fairy-elf, and discussions on the legend of Sinbad and whether he reached New Zealand or not–all while a young girl tries to track down a treasure to save her family’s farm.

So here’s a closer look at the novel, examining the Narration, Characters, Content, Artwork, World-Building, and Overall Response.

Narration: Four out of Five. Since this was a middle school/young adult novel, I wasn’t expecting great quantities of literary description, imaginative narration, etc., yet I found the descriptions to be one of the strongest parts of the book. They helped me picture the beauty of the scenes, often set in caves, beneath what I’d consider exotic trees, or in the bush. It was one of the best blends of the supernatural/paranormal/fantastic with normal life I’ve read, to where I wasn’t sure where one ended and the other began, and the narrative style played a large role in this.

Characters: Three out of Five. I liked the characters, some of whom where quite unique (like Abraham Te Kaitiaki and his great-neice, Ariki), but overall, they seemed a bit more like stock characters than real people. Nat’s dad, who constantly worried about his kids, and one of the villains, Cortez, especially seemed two dimensional. I don’t know why Cortez wanted the treasure and what he really intended to do with it–just that he was greedy. And I don’t know why Nat’s dad split with Nat’s mom. It must’ve happened, for they definitely live separate lives now, but I didn’t get any sense of who he was and why this could’ve happened.

Even Nat’s brother, sister, and friends sometimes became two-dimensioned, and while this sort of characterization is often part of middle school fiction, it is still not something I’d consider a strength. Given this is labeled as young adult fiction, and since that genre has grown to embrace more complex characters and storylines, I feel it’s fair to expect most of the primary characters to be well-rounded rather than flat.

Content: Four out of Five. This was another place where the book excelled. There was a map and a glossary (though I definitely needed more words to be included than a typical New Zealander would), and we got to see things from both the villains and the heroes’ perspectives. There was no objectionable content (not even a kiss), and the budding romance between Nat and one of her brother’s friends was sweet, albeit a touch forced and awkward (but then, it could easily have been forced and awkward, in real life).

Artwork: Subjective. Personally, I liked the cover. I thought the spotty patches of blue and black resembled the way light behaves in a cave, and, after some research, I learned that the Glowworm Caves actually look like that (and a chunk of the story takes place in these caverns). However, the island-thing on the right, coupled with the mirrored glow in the water looks a bit like a dagger (that’s what I thought it was, initially), and, given the content of the novel, an ominous mask might have been a nice touch in there somewhere, since they were looking for two jewels that fit into “the Tiger’s mask.”

World-Building: Five out of Five. This was undeniably the strongest part of the book. Again, I don’t know how much was directly lifted from New Zealand culture in general, but the blending of typical real life (with computers and school holidays) and a more mystical reality (with patupaiarehe and tohungas) was beautifully done. There was enough information given for us to really feel that such a world could exist, but not so much as to take away from the plot and pacing of the novel.

Overall Response: Sixteen out of twenty, or 4 overall. Overall, I really enjoyed it, though if there had been a great deal more mysticism in it, I probably wouldn’t have liked it as much (due to personal taste). It was fresh and different, with a plot that kept things moving, and it let me feel like I’d traveled to a new, strange and beautiful country, all without leaving my living room.

For more book reviews like this one, click here.

Copyright 2016 Andrea Lundgren

Photo used by permission from Brydie Walker Bain

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