Sunday, March 30, 2008

Peak by Roland Smith - review

Peak by Roland Smith
I really enjoyed Smith's Cryptid Hunters, a page-turning, funny adventure story of two siblings and their globe-trotting uncle (father). Featuring nefarious villains and their henchmen, resourceful young people who confront their fears, and guest appearances by mokele-mbembe and Sasquatch, Cryptid Hunters pretty much hit all my buttons.

Reading the jacket copy for Peak, I expected much of the same. Peak is a teenager in New York City who is a born mountain climber. The city is not his natural habitat, and he gets into big trouble. In swoops his estranged father, Josh, a world-famous climber, who trundles Peak off to Asia, buys him a bunch of climbing gear, and leaves him in the care of a Sherpa monk in Kathmandu. From there, we're off to Mount Everest at a breakneck pace. So far, so good: globe-trotting parent, exotic locale, physical challenges, extremely rapid pace.

And there's no doubt, Peak is another page-turner. There's an interesting supporting cast, and the climb itself is described so vividly that I felt compelled to pull out our DVD of Everest: The Death Zone for accompanying visuals. Loyalties are called into question as Peak confronts his limitations, and eventually, after Learning Something About Himself, he resolves his moral dilemma and gains perspective on his life.

Given this book's strengths, do I have to quibble with it? Well, apparently so. In the first place, I think the story suffers somewhat for the lack of a female contemporary for Peak. Also, Smith misses an opportunity to give even a brief overview of China's history with Tibet, especially since the bad guy in this show is a Chinese military man, and the border between Tibet and Nepal drives much of the plot. But it's a fine book.

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