Zan-Gah is eager to become a man but his journey towards adulthood is perilous. The story opens with an exciting lion hunt which captured my attention right away. Later we learn that Zan’s twin brother, Dael, is missing and Zan-Gah is determined to find and bring Dael home. Like most quest stories the object sought is less important than journey. Zan’s travels test his strength and wisdom as he crosses the borders of hostile clans and landscapes.
The novel left me wanting more. I enjoyed the descriptions of the landscape and liked watching Zan survive harsh environments. Yet I wanted even more description. Sometimes I felt the plot moved too quickly, skimming over things I wanted to know more about, like Zan’s time with the Wasp people where he spends a year which is briefly mentioned in one sentence. Shickman’s writing was clear and never confused me. The tenor of the prose gave me the feeling that the story is very old which is fitting since the subtitle is A Prehistoric Adventure. Yet the simplicity of the prose, and its many well-used figures of speech, again left me wanting more.
The story has a lot of action and brief but strong violence which kept my attention. It also has some great themes like learning to forgive and asking for help. I was a little surprised at the ending. Shickman chose to end the novel talking about Dael, and not the hero Zan-Gah. I found this a bit anti-climactic. Though he fit into the storyline, Dael was a bit of a downer character and since it’s not a story about Dael I was confused why it ended talking about him. There is a sequel, Zan-Gah and The Beautiful Country which I suspect will fill in some of the blanks and looks like it will continue the twins’ story.
While reading, I kept thinking about Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet. Personally, I enjoyed Zan-Gah more than Hatchet but they are very similar in that a boy is on his own surviving in the wilderness for a good part of the story. I would recommend Zan-Gah to middle school boys who enjoy survival stories. This text counts towards the PoC Reading Challenge!
Publisher: Earthshaker Books, 2007 Pages: 148
Rating: 3 Stars Source: Received for free from the publisher. Thanks, Earthshaker!