CM . . .
. Volume XVIII Number 33. . . .April 27, 2012
The Key of Braha. (Amos Daragon, #2).
Bryan Perro. Translated by Y. Maudet.
New York, NY: Delacorte Press (Distributed in Canada by Random House Canada), 2012.
184 pp., hardcover, $18.99.
Good and evil-Fiction.
Grades 5-9 / Ages 10-14.
Review by Mary Thomas.
Mertellus was seated at his desk. The specter flicked through a big law book. When he was alive, Mertellus had been one of the greatest judges the world had ever known. When he died, the gods chose him to preside over the grand tribunal of Braha, the City of the Dead. For five hundred years, Mertellus had gone to the tribunal every night. Together with Korrillion and Ganhaus, his peers, he judged the dead who came before him.
One by one, the deceased entered the court. The three judges carefully pondered each file before rendering their verdict. If the deceased had behaved badly in life, the door to hell was opened and a large staircase led him or her to the depths of Earth where the negative gods dwelled. If the deceased had been filled with acts of goodness and compassion, the door leading to heaven and the positive gods was opened.
Most of the time, the three magistrates were unanimous in their decisions and the procedure was just a formality. But every so often a file presented some difficulties: there might be errors in the computing of good and bad actions; sometimes the soul of the deceased remained emotionally linked to the world of the living. Promises made before death and not kept could also impair the procedure,and to further complicate things, a divine damnation could be attached to the file.
At the slightest doubt, the deceased was returned to the City of the Dead, where, pending a new judgement, he or she was doomed to remain prisoner. Denied entry to either realm, the poor, anguished ghost wandered in the gigantic city -- sometimes for decades. The City of the Dead was thus filled with specters waiting to be judged, and although Mertellus and his assistants worked relentlessly, they were unable to reduce the glut. Newcomers settled in Braha every day, and the problem of overpopulation was becoming acute.
The first of the Amos Daragon books, ended with Amos's having collected/earned the first of the four masks that he would need were he to restore the balance of good and evil to the world. This one was the mask of air and, enhanced by the first of its four stones of power, it enabled him to some extent to control the winds. I confidently expected that the next book would see the powers of this mask fully realized, leaving the acquisition of the new masks for later stories, but this series obviously thrives on the unexpected. The story begins, as the excerpt above indicates, with a problem in Braha, the City of the Dead. In a situation reminiscent of Canadian refugee courts, the judges who decide whether a soul who has crossed the Styx should proceed through the door to Paradise or the one to Hell are so behind in their decisions that the city is becoming unbearably overcrowded with ghosts. Then, for some reason that is never made clear someone, again unspecified, causes both doors to be locked. The problem is now acute! One of the judges happens to recall an ancient prophecy which says:
The one who dies and comes back to life,
The one who sails the Styx
And finds his way,
The one who answers the angel
And vanquishes the devil
Is the one who will find the key of Braha.
This "one" must be mortal, and, of course, the one who can fill this role is Amos. The remainder of the book is the route taken by him to unravel this prophecy and release the doors and, in the process, naturally, he acquires not another stone for his mask of air, but instead another mask.
As in the previous book, readers meet mythological creatures from many parts of the world -- quédé from Haiti were new ones for me that required that I consult the Mythological Lexicon at the end of the book. Once again, Amos showed his quickness of mind in being able to figure out very obscure riddles (not based on puns as so many of those in children's puzzle books are) in order to get himself out of tricky situations and then finally to find a solution to the opening of the doors that does not result in war and massive slaughter of humankind.
Once again, I found the translation to read awkwardly. There were an awful lot of "he shouted's" that could have been varied more appropriately, and there were turns of phrase that I found off-putting, though children might not notice. The translation seemed to make the whole story a bit turgid and certainly less exciting than the actions described would have it be. However, action there is, and lots of it, as well as many points of interest and curiosity to be thought about after the heat of battle has passed. I am not surprised at the popularity of the original French version.
Mary Thomas has retired from her job in elementary school libraries in Winnipeg, MB, but she very much enjoys continuing to read the books they may be buying.
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