Chase to the Brazen Head by Gregory Payne -- Guest review by Kathy of Mom Crusades
If Indiana Jones met The Hardy Boys and The Magic Tree House, the end result wouldn't be too far from what the reader meets in Chase to the Brazen Head, from the China Exploration Club series by Gregory Payne.
Brazen Head is chock-full of well-paced adventure, squeaky-clean characters, and information about the Chinese culture, and of course - theres a mystery to be solved: Who is Lee, and why does he want an ugly, wooden key?
Archer, aka Archie, Blaine is our American teen living in Shanghai, where his father works. He hates living there, but is doing what he can to make the best of it. I wanted more character development for Archie, as he learns about a new culture, fitting in at a private school, missing his old friends, and so forth.
Archie meets Edward Montague de Lisle, "[a] rather small lad," a bespectacled misfit who is a veritable font of knowledge. While exploring the school grounds one day, Edward and Archie find an old church that is being used as someones private museum - housing a collection of Chinese artifacts and a library of sorts about the artifacts and Chinese culture. Ah Sook is the elderly Chinese gentleman who oversees this collection, and between his conversations and Edwards, we get that Magic Tree House element to the story.
In the Magic Tree House books, for those who are unfamiliar with them, the characters travel in their tree house to various places around the world and have grand adventures, all the while learning tidbits about the culture, etc. of the places they've landed. In Brazen Head, the information sharing is set up well enough by the author, but it still seems somewhat forced, as though the point of the novel is to educate the reader about many facets of another culture rather than take the reader on an adventure and make the reader think about how the character is feeling or why he/she does what he/she does.
Archie and Edward enroll in a martial arts class taught by a brother-sister team who were trained by Shaolin monks. Sze and his sister, Yan Yan, soon befriend Archie and Edward. After a rather contrived Hardy Boys style mishap, directed to their elderly friend Ah Sook (at the hands of the evil Lee), the quartet are planning an adventure.
It is refreshing to read a story where the female character is not someones love interest, or isnt trying to become someones love interest, and she can actually kick some serious hiney. She was, after all, trained in martial arts by Shaolin monks. However, Yan Yan could just as easily be a male for all that anything is made of her femaleness. All of the characters seem asexual and flat, to me. Yan Yan is the token female. Sze is the hungry one. Edward is the studious, knowledgeable one. Archie is the somewhat stupid, athletic one, compared to Edward - but heck, compared to Edward, anyone would be stupid.
The goal of the foursome is to stop the evil Lee from obtaining the Brazen Head. I admit that by this point in the story, I was reading simply to finish the novel, so I had to go back and find out just what the heck a Brazen Head was. Roughly paraphrased, here it is:
Dominican saint and scholar Albertus Magnus, of the Middle Ages, and expert on the human brain, spent most of his adult life creating the Brazen Head which is a mechanical device in the shape of a human head, which could answer questions. The real Brazen Head was created by Tao Hongjing, a Taoist master and alchemist, and it is this Brazen Head that our four friends seek.
The rest of the book is pretty much like an Indiana Jones movie. In fact, this novel would translate well on the big screen - the special effects could be incredible.
The whole time adventures are going on, somewhat noisily, I might add, Archie, Edward, Sze, and Yan Yan are trying to catch up to the evil Lee. The adventures are interesting, but there is never any real sense of danger inherent in them. I was always sure that no one would be seriously injured or die, and even when the characters were faced with being shot with eight gajillion arrows if they even sneezed, I figured they'd find a way out of it.
For readers interested in Indiana Jones-style adventure, and who have few concerns about why a character said or did something, this would be a fine read. There are lots of sticky situations to get out of, and in 290 pages, that kind of fun never ends. Readers who want more character development, though, will be disappointed.
All novels should have well-developed characters and an interesting plot line. Chase to the Brazen Head: China Exploration Club had only the interesting plot line, and even that, well, there weren't many surprises.
The novel is well-paced, the information presented is interesting, but the characters are undeveloped and there aren't many surprises within the plot. I would rate this novel 2 ½ stars out of 5.
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