In John Peragine’s boisterous middle grade fantasy, a boy undertakes an odyssey to reunite with his family.
Thirteen-year-old Max’s father is missing, and his mother has just been abducted, so he joins Captain Cinn and his pirate crew to work as a cabin boy, and to seek answers with their help. Armed with his rare history book, The Secrets of the Twilight Djinn, Max and Cinn gather motley helpers as they cross challenging terrain. Friendships form while Max learns the truth about his parents, outrunning the Twilight Army and evil djinns that threaten them all.
The book’s disparate fantasy elements draw from myths, medieval guilds, and an old world spice trade, resulting in characters who sometimes clash, including a witch and her harpies, a sultan, a northern queen, and shape-shifting snow bears. The islands they inhabit are a busy amalgam with painful back stories that unfold through detailed conversations.
Amid themes of regal power and those who fight it, seafaring scenes set on Captain Cinn’s Saucy Pig steal the show, as does the book’s witty banter, and everyone’s penchant for improvising bumbling, thrilling escape plans that deepen their ties to each other. Throughout, culinary delights underscore how “bland food is a crime”; they are a fun background element.
When Max discovers untamed magic within himself, his sudden power helps to steer him closer to his goals. His gradual change from a sheltered farm boy to a brave pirate-in-training comes via brisk episodes that raise enough intriguing questions to spur the next installment of the series.
With its focus on ragtag, skilled fighters and renegade sentiments, Max and the Spice Thieves is an entertaining island adventure.
Reviewed by Karen Rigby
March / April 2021
Young adults who choose Max and the Spice Thieves for its fantasy adventure won't be disappointed. The book embarks on a romp through a universe of spice pirates and action far from the ordinary, boring world Max wakes up to at home with his mother, right from the story's opening lines.
How Max moves from this staid existence, living with a skin condition that reacts dangerously to the cold and keeps him restricted, to a paradigm-bending encounter with a teen warrior queen and an assassin (among other powerful characters) lies at the heart of a story that probes Max's puzzling past to slowly reveal the truth about his identity and world.
Any young reader who has imagined a different life or heritage will readily relate to Max's conundrums as the truth emerges.
Everyone thinks his father dead, lost at sea among the Spice Islands chain, for one. But Max knows differently, even if his mother refuses to believe it. And when she finally does relent about taking a journey, it isn't to where Max thinks his father would reside, but to a dangerous island rumored to be home to the Midnight Men who hunt and eat people. Why would his mother choose Sanctus as their destination?
As Rules are thrown away, Max confronts people who believe he must belong to a royal family, and who knew his father in unexpected ways. Max makes new friends, encounters dangers on the sea such as kelpies, and journeys to the Witch Queen's temple for answers, and the action and encounters become fast-paced and thoroughly absorbing.
If he finds his father, will he accept Max's invitation to embark on a shared journey? The power that has been awakened in him is pushing him in a direction beyond the search for a lost father. Max's discovery of his abilities and purpose adds to a close-hauled story that reveals the first leg of new adventures as he steps into a strange world of snow bears and Spice Pirates and finds his place in it.
Middle grade to high school readers are in for a real treat in a swashbuckling fantasy that challenges Max's perceptions of himself and his former role beyond his life as the physically challenged son of a missing father.
Max and the Spice Thieves is very highly recommended for kids who like their action fast paced and their plots replete with self-discoveries and satisfying twists.
Max and the Spice Thieves is a work of fiction in the epic fantasy, action, and adventure sub-genres aimed at young adult readers, and was written by author John Peragine. The book follows the hero Max Daybreaker as he joins a group of spice pirates on a quest to find his missing mother. Picking up a gallery of interesting new friends to help him on his journey, Max and his allies must survive dangerous worlds filled with deadly creatures, but as each challenge is met, Max learns a little bit more about his own strange and secretive past.
Author John Peragine has crafted a superb fantasy tale which will certainly capture the hearts and minds of the intended young adult reading audience, as well as older readers seeking a fresh sense of adventure from a youthful perspective. One of the things which I really admired about the work was its imaginative quality and craft of language, bringing the colourful characters and magical settings to life in a way that feels like blockbuster cinema. The dialogue was a special highlight too, serving not only to characterize the amazing and distinct voices of the different people whom Max meets, but also providing a clever way to get the plot exposition out without reams of thick backstory or prose that takes you out of the action. This keeps the work relevant and involved for every scene, increasing the tension and sense of adventure. Overall, I would highly recommend Max and the Spice Thieves to fans of epic journeys, fierce battles, and all-out fantasy adventure. A cover to cover thrilling ride.