Book of the Dead: TombQuest, Book 1

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
Book of the Dead: TombQuest, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Straightforward mummy adventure with a side of gamer fun.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

A bit of Egyptology 101, with mentions of canopic jars, mummies, what animals mythologically represented (such as the hyena and the scarab beetle), the Book of the Dead, and the Temple of Dendur. Much talk of the Metropolitan Museum in New York City and its exhibits, and one very important fact about scorpions: The small ones, not the big ones, are much more venomous.

Positive Messages

Good vs. evil is the main struggle here. The evil forces are put in motion by a mother not able to let go of her dying son, so was what she did good or evil? Not that the book dwells on this much -- it's more focused on loyalty to friends and bravery.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Alex's mom does everything she can to save her son Alex, in the process unleashing evil into the world. Alex and Ren are loyal and brave friends.

Violence & Scariness

Alex, the main character, in chronic pain, collapses and nearly dies at the hospital. A boy in Egypt is captured in the night, with no mention of whether he is killed. Alex's mom is kidnapped. Some mentions of human deaths, but the main characters only see a mass grave of small animals. Two people get stung by scorpions that swarm through NYC. Some fighting with magic where air is pulled from a man's lungs and others are brainwashed into hitting another man with tools. Booby traps (knives, a pit), and one murderous mummy with a giant stinger attacks. 

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Book of the Dead is the first book in the multimedia TombQuest series. Kids who read the series (five books are planned) can go to the website and do their own tomb quest with a character they create. There also are places on the site to write fan fiction, interact with the author, and chat on the message boards. In this start to the history-adventure series, kids follow the story of Alex, a terminally ill boy whose mother, an Egyptologist at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, uses lost spells from the Book of the Dead to bring Alex back. In the process she unleashes some Egyptian baddies: mummies, scorpions, and evil followers. There's a kidnapping, a few scorpion stings, some dangerous booby traps, and magic fighting. Alex and his friend Ren see lots of small dead animals, get attacked by a giant stinger, and hear that people they don't know have been killed. Although this isn't as thorough a look at Egyptology as Rick Riordan's Kane Chronicles series, it's an accessible introduction, especially for action-loving reluctant readers.

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What's the story?

Alex doesn't want to worry his mom. He's in a lot of pain again -- a mysterious ailment he's had his whole life -- and he thinks there's nothing his mom can do. But little does he know that her life's work as an Egyptologist and collector at the Metropolitan Museum of Art has been driven by Alex's illness. For years she's been searching for the lost spells from the Book of the Dead, and she's finally found them. And just in time, as Alex collapses in the museum and is rushed to the hospital and put on life support. Alex's mom is thrilled when a lost spell brings him back. But unleashing the ancient, powerful magic has a price; other things are stirring -- ancient evil things wrapped for hundreds of years. And scorpions. Lots of scorpions.

Is it any good?

This is what a good tomb-raiding adventure should have. Mummies -- check! Booby traps -- check! Magic powers -- check! Treasure -- eh, not so much yet, unless you count powerful old books and a couple of magic amulets. The goods are mostly there. Now we need our evil-fighting duo.

Alex is back from the dead -- nice touch. And Ren is the New York girl with good grades. And they're best friends. Great, but that's about all readers really know at this point -- and that Alex loves and misses his Egyptologist mom. If we're going to follow the twosome around the world for at least four more books, they should have been more fully developed as characters. All the characters -- the cousin, the frog-faced doctor -- could use a bit more depth. The more the author finds that good adventure/character balance, the more everything will be in place for a truly exciting series.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about ancient Egypt. What's so fascinating about it?

  • What did you learn about Egypt and mummies from Book of the Dead? What more can you find out online? (The Metropolitan Museum of Art's website is a good start.)

  • Will you play the online game if you haven't already? Or write some fan fiction? Do interactive books make you want to read more of them?

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