Publisher: Mauve Square Publishing; 1 edition (April 15, 2013)
Rating: Five stars
Age group: 9+
The Shadow of the Volcano is the fifth adventure of twins Joe and Jemima Lancelot and their friend Charlie. Joe and Jemima have been searching for their parents who disappeared several months earlier. Thanks to an old book and a magical key, as well as special charms, the kids and Max (their talking Tonkinese cat) are able to travel back in time to search for the twins’ parents. Sadly, on their previous adventures, it seems the twins’ parents were always just ahead of them. On this trip, they hope they’ll catch up with their mum and dad. Trips back in time can be dangerous, especially if they end up in the middle of a war, or some disaster. The kids have had their fair share of those and this trip is no less dangerous. The kids and Max end up in Pompeii, just a few days before Mount Vesuvius will explode, destroying the whole city. Unfortunately, they also land up on the tail end of a consignment of slaves. The slave dealer Scylax is ecstatic because he’s convinced he was short-changed by three slaves in the last delivery. Jemima befriends a young slave, a Briton called Caris, and tries to cheer her up. Luckily, Joe and Jemima are attractive twins and take the fancy of their new owners, while Charlie, originally thought weedy, impresses the book-keeper with his skill in mathematics. Joe has the hardest time of all, working his fingers to the bone, as he grumbles, while Charlie and Jemima have relatively easy jobs. Max manages to inveigle himself into the household, but on the night of a party, is booted out. He is rescued by a priestess of the Temple of Isis, and she is in love with a gladiator. An adventure to rival all others ensues, with a magnificent fake battle between Leo (a lion that Max helped) and Felix, the handsome young gladiator. All this time, the kids keep trying to warn people about the impending disaster; some listen and will escape the conflagration, but for the most part, people don’t heed the warnings. Vesuvius has rumbled before and they are used to it. Will the kids catch up with their parents? Will they make it back to their own world?
I just love this series and, in my opinion, it keeps getting better with every book. Author Wendy Leighton-Porter has such a lovely sense of humour that brings even the smallest characters vividly to life. Max is utterly captivating as himself, with delusions of grandeur after living as the descendant of a god in the Temple of Isis. The kids’ new owner is based on a real Pompeiian, whose villa was discovered and excavated. So much fact is cleverly woven into the story, teaching kids a history lesson without their even knowing it. There are details that young readers will remember, simply because of the way these have been used in the tale to lend credence and veracity. Who can argue with an exciting piece of history? Of course, as in her other books, Wendy Leighton-Porter does not shy away from the gritty realities of life back then. Being a slave was no easy task, and if one was a gladiator, death was just another fight away. I truly enjoyed the rich detail of Pompeiian life pervading the story, down to the descriptions of the eruption and what it must have been like for people at the time. The end material includes some lovely particulars for avid young explorers and historians; a glossary, a floor plan of a typical house, photos of the Pompeiian excavation and more. As always, maps put the leap back in time firmly into perspective. This book is a real winner, and don’t be surprised if your young relative starts sounding like an expert volcanologist. PS: If anyone is wondering how the romance is going between the twins’ Uncle Richard and Charlie’s mum … they are going on another date!
Reviewer’s bio: Fiona Ingram is an award-winning middle grade author who is passionate about getting kids interested in reading. Find out more about Fiona and her books on www.FionaIngram.com. She reviews books for the Jozikids Blog.