CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 40. . . .June 17, 2011.
The Mask Wearer. (Amos Daragon).
Bryan Perro. Translated from the French by Y. Muadet.
New York, NY: Delacorte Press (Distributed in Canada by Random House Canada), 2011.
167 pp. hardcover, $18.99.
Adventure and adventurers-Fiction.
Good and evil-Fiction.
Grades 5-9 / Ages 10-14.
Review by Mary Thomas.
After a two-hour walk, Amos finally reached the bay of caverns. Exhausted, he sat on the beach pebbles and contemplated the low tide and the immense sculptures cut by the ocean that presided over the bay like petrified giants.
"Now, Amos, let's get started!" he told himself.
He quickly filled his two buckets with crabs. As Amos passed by the entrance of a grotto that was larger and higher than the others, he spotted a big black crow, dead on the shore. Amos raised his eyes toward the sky and saw at least twenty more flying in circles above the cliff.
“That's the way these birds fly when another animal is dying,” he thought. “They'll feed on the corpse. Maybe it's a big fish or a stranded whale. This dead crow wasn’t lucky. He probably broke his neck on the rock.”
As he carefully looked around for a helpless animal, Amos saw three more crows at the entrance of the grotto, but these were alive. Their eyes seemed riveted inside the cavern, as if they were trying to make sense of something in the belly of the rocky wall. Amos was approaching to find out what was going on when he heard a piercing scream. It came from the depths of the cavern; the frightening sound paralysed the birds. They fell dead on the spot.
Amos himself was knocked down -- as if hit by a strong blow -- by the intensity of the scream. He lay curled up, his heart beating madly. His legs refused to move. He had never heard such a noise. The scream, which seemed both human and animal, had to have been shrieked by powerful vocal cords.
Then Amos heard a woman's voice, as soft as a melody, and he came out of his daze.
Amos Daragon--I initially read the title as 'Amos Dragon', perhaps influenced by the dust-jacket's illustration of a boy brandishing a sword at a snake-necked mythical creature--is one very bright boy! By the time he is 12, he is pretty much the sole provider for the family, his father having been enslaved for debt by the ruler of the realm of Omain. On one of his expeditions foraging for food, Amos encounters a mermaid who gives him a message and a white stone to be delivered to 'Gwenfadrill, who lives in the woods of Tarkasis'. To accomplish this, he manages to trick the Lord of Omain into letting him and his parents leave, using a couple of trickster ploys that allow them not only to escape but to get horses to speed them on their way. His agile mind manages to devise ways of overcoming all obstacles to fulfilling the tasks laid on him and also to freeing Omain from its wicked lord and destroying an army of gorgons. As part of all this activity, Amos acquires the first of the four masks that are his destiny if he is to restore the balance of good and evil in the world, and the first of the four jewels that, embedded in the mask, give it its powers. Three masks and fifteen jewels to go! If the reader did not already know that there are 12 books in the series, the others as yet untranslated from French, we would have guessed that it was planned as a long-running story! While the end of the book leaves Amos enjoying a well-deserved period of respite, it leaves no doubt in the reader's mind that his story has only just begun.
The final pages of the book are devoted to a 'Mythological Lexicon' which describes the origins and powers of some of the creatures encountered in the book: basilisk, merrien, gorgon, and others. They are taken from many traditions, and the manner in which Perro has managed to weave Greek, Roman, and northern European myths into one fantastic tale of adventure is intriguing and well done.
Amos encounters an enormous number of adventures in the space of a short time and 164 pages, but unfortunately one never has a real edge-of-the-seat compulsion to find out what happens next. In fact, the narrative thread struck me as a trifle flat. I think, in retrospect, that it may be due to the translation, rather than the original writing, but not having the French version in hand, I can't be sure. However, there are places where I had the feeling that a freer version of the language might have served better than a strict one. For example, there are several 'humanimals' in the book, one of whom is a naga, or snake-man. He, of course, is one of the bad guys, and when he is talking, whether threatening or cajoling, he interlaces his words with sibilants: 'Good, ssss, you're a courageous boy, sss, it's very good,' he says. The extra esses could have been introduced where they already occur--'courageousssss', 'it'ssssss'--and 'good' could easily have been replaced by 'excsssssellant', to give a more sinister, yet natural effect. English has a lot of possible synonyms which could have been used.
That being said, it is certainly a good story, and the idea of acquiring power through masks which bond to one's face and are then further incrementally empowered by the addition of further bits is a novel one. My question is: with four masks, each requiring four stones to reach its full potential, why are there only twelve books in the series? When and where does the doubling up of the acquisitions occur? I guess I'll just have to read the rest of the books as they come out to find out.
Mary Thomas, who is retiring from her job in an elementary school library in Winnipeg, MB, at the end of June, is looking forward to being able to read even more books than she does now.
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