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"Sometimes you can't be ready to do the things you really need to do. You just do them. And that makes you ready," Alex. —Fire the Depths

Fire the Depths

Max Tilt #1

by Peter Lerangis
AR Test, Diverse Characters, Must Read

At A Glance
Interest Level

Reading Level
Number of Pages

Thirteen-year-old Max Tilt’s life changes in a moment. When his mother becomes ill, his cousin Alex comes to care for him. When Max discovers his parents are in danger of losing their home, Alex and Max want to find a way to help. They head to the attic to find items to sell and discover Max’s great-great-great-grandfather Jules Verne’s unfinished manuscript The Lost Treasures. What begins as a quest for artic items becomes a treasure hunt as Alex and Max learn that everything Jules Verne wrote in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea was true.

As Alex and Max begin their journey, a strange skunk-haired man named Spencer Niemand appears. He’s determined to steal The Lost Treasures’ manuscript and claim the treasure as his own. However, he needs the kids’ help. Can Max and Alex outwit the devious man who is willing to use violence to gain the treasure?

There is a lot to like in Max Tilt: Fire the Depths. Right from the start, the story is fast-paced and interesting. Although the story is a bit far-fetched, especially the part where his parents leave knowing the electricity will be turned off and the house repossessed, these events explain why Max and Alex are willing to go on a dangerous treasure hunt in order to help.

As the two cousins begin their journey, they don’t realize the danger that follows. As the two follow Jules Verne’s path, they use clues he left behind, but they are soon trapped in a submarine with a villain. As they struggle against an evil villain, they dive to a city beneath the ocean, explore an ice cave in Greenland, and fight a giant squid. This page-turner keeps readers engaged using suspense, adventure, and a bit of humor.

The interplay between Alex and Max helps readers engage in the story. Throughout the story, the two cousins build a friendship and learn to rely on each other in dire situations. Each shows their bravery in different ways. Alex is unique in that he has synesthesia (where one sense substitutes for another) and the effects of synesthesia are shown in a simple, unique way.

Although this adventurous story is written for the ages of eight and up, the story is more appropriate for middle school students because of the violence and the truly evil villain. Although the violence is not described in graphic detail, the villain kills others in order to satisfy his greed. The action-packed plot takes Max and Alex on a submarine ride to an epic adventure that will engage students and teach that, “Sometimes you can’t be ready to do the things you really need to do. You just do them. And that makes you ready.”

Sexual Content

  • None


  • When a man grabs Niemand’s wrist, Niemand, “drew a knife from his pocket, and slammed it downward. As the man yanked his hand back, the blade sank into the tabletop.”
  • In order to eliminate witnesses, Niemand locks people into a warehouse and then sets off explosives. Niemand tells the event from his point of view, “on four, he heard sudden shouting and frantic footsteps inside the building. They finally realized. Good. Let them know there was no escape . . . On seven, the warehouse exploded.”
  • Niemand throws hot coffee in someone’s face. The man, “was squirming in pain on the worship floor.”
  • When bullies steal Max’s lunch, he uses a drone to get his lunch back. The drone hovers over the bullies’ heads and Max hits the release button. “The apple conked Dugan in the head. As he screamed and jumped aside, Max guided Vulturon downward, where Claw #3 grabbed onto his lunch bag.”
  • When a bad man tries to grab Alex, she hits him. The man, “recoiled with a howl of pain. But his reflexes were quick enough to wrap one beefy hand around Max’s throat.” Someone grabs the man’s foot and he lost his balance, “falling to the floor. His head smacked against the solid-steel edge of the Tilts’ coffee table.”
  • A man shoots at Alex and Max, but someone stops him before anyone is hurt.
  • In a letter, Verne writes about how Captain No One destroys an underwater civilization. “With a flash of fire, the carapace was breached. A hole shattered the thick material, jagged and mean as a lightning bolt. An explosion turned the sea to red.” Captain No One looted the city, and when two crew members tried to steal, they “were shot for their greed.”
  • A man falls from an icy ledge, “and then came the scream—deep, raw, animal-like—as Basile fell off the ledge and into the teeming white mass below.” Later, he is discovered alive.
  • Niemand ties Alex and Max to a snowmobile. “He circled it around each of them individually. He tied it down to various places on the snowmobile . . . Niemand flipped the lever to Drive. And he walked away.” The kids then fall into the frozen ocean, but they do not die. When the squid grabs Alex, Basile “swung the ax at the appendage that held Alex . . . The blade split it in two, the top part skirting upward in a violent spray of milky liquid.” The squid finally retreats.
  • A giant squid attacks the submarine and is able to get inside. Basile, Alex, and Max fight the squid in a battle that lasts eight pages.
  • When Niemand tries to capture Alex and Max, Max fights back. “As André approached, Max thrust himself off with his hands and kicked upwards, landing a solid hit on André’s chin. The scraggle-haired man fell backwards, arms flailing.” André grabs Alex and tosses her “like a bale of hay. Max saw her body fly over a thick copse and smack against a tree trunk. He heard her head thump and saw her limp body drop down to the forest floor.”
  • Niemand tells Alex to dig his own grave, but before he can get the work done, Alex hits Niemand on the head with a shovel. The kids are able to get away.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None


  • “Crap!” is used once.
  • Max tells someone that they are about to feel like “asses.”
  • Someone yells at a bad driver, “Watch where you’re going, idiot!”


  • None

Spiritual Content

  • While hiking, a character thinks “if God had meant for humans to live among hills, he would have made them goats.”
  • After defeating the squid, Alex said, “Thank God it’s over.”
Other books by Peter Lerangis
Other books you may enjoy

"Sometimes you can't be ready to do the things you really need to do. You just do them. And that makes you ready," Alex. —Fire the Depths

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