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“Everything that happens has purpose, which is another thing you can think about when you are not fleeing for your life,” Zopa. —The Edge
Peak Marcello Adventure #2
by Roland Smith
AR Test, Diverse Characters
For an upcoming documentary, billionaire Sebastian Plank recruits a team of young climbers to complete an International Peace Ascent on mountains all around the world. To fulfill part of Plank’s documentary, fifteen-year-old Peak Marcello and his mom are flown to the Hindu Kush mountains in Afghanistan along with a few other young climbers and a documentary crew. But when the camp is attacked and hostages are taken, Peak has to track down the attackers to save his friends and mother.
The Edge is the second book in the Peak Marcello Adventure Series and takes place relatively soon after his adventures in the first book, Peak. Much of the same cast from the first book is back, including the mysterious Sherpa guide/monk Zopa, Peak’s mom, and the documentary crew. Peak himself is still a fun and interesting character, and his love for his family and humanity, in general, makes him a sympathetic protagonist.
Much like in the first book, survival and climbing are strongly intertwined themes. Peak spends much of the book using survival techniques and climbing to find and save his mom and fellow climbers. He, fortunately, has the help of Ethan, a new character who is a fellow climber and former marine. Peak looks up to Ethan, and Ethan serves as a practical guide who keeps Peak and the others from dying out in the elements.
This second book’s plot involves political intrigue and terrorists, so it has more graphic violence than the first book. One of the climbers, Alessia, is the daughter of a French diplomat that Peak befriends and shows romantic interest in. Over half of the climbing group is taken as hostages from camp, and several of the group are killed on camera. The attackers make it clear that they are using the hostages to get money from the French government because they have the daughter of one of their diplomats, and they themselves are former French soldiers. Although Peak is spared from seeing some of the worst parts, some of the more gruesome scenes are described by other characters. The Edge covers sensitive topics like murder and a hostage situation, so younger readers should be prepared for more nitty-gritty details than in the first book.
The Edge furthers Peak’s story while rounding out old characters and introducing new ones. Peak and the others use their climbing skills to survive as well as perform for the camera. Despite the overall serious tone of the book, there are lighthearted moments early on from the documentary guy, Phillip, who clearly doesn’t understand much about climbing and causes some humorous frustration for Peak. This series is for people who like climbing and those who really want an action-packed adventure. Fans of Peak won’t have to look far for his next climbing journey, which is detailed in the next book in the series, Ascent. Although The Edge is a complete story on its own, the next book will surely have a new mountain for Peak to scale.
- Phillip’s personal assistant and girlfriend, Cindy, seems very friendly towards Ethan, one of the other climbers. When Peak asks Ethan about it, Ethan laughs and says, “Not my type, and I’m not her type either. She was doing that stuff with me at the river to get under Phillip’s skin and because she didn’t want to go for a hike.”
- Tony, the immigration man helping Peak and his mother in Afghanistan, is playing the video game League of Legends on the plane when Peak meets him. Peak goes to speak with him, and Tony says, “I was just bludgeoned to death. Take a seat.”
- Tony explains that Afghanistan “has been in a state of war for thousands of years. Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, the British, the Soviet Union, Al-Qaeda, the Americans, the Taliban, and several others have all attempted to take over Afghanistan.”
- As he’s climbing up the side of a cliff, an eagle attacks Peak. Peak says, “I scrunched up as best as I could on a vertical wall and shoved my face into a narrow crack to stop my eyeballs from getting plucked out. I felt the air from the first bird’s wings a second before it smashed into my helmet. This was followed by another hit on my pack, much hard than the first.”
- As Peak reaches for the cave, the eagle knocks him in the butt. Peak smashes “[his] face on the back wall, which was only six feet from the opening.” Peak is bleeding considerably from a cut on his chin due to the impact.
- The camera guy, JR, gets the “butt strike” on video. Peak responds to this with, “If you put it on YouTube, I will kill you.”
- Peak falls asleep in his cave and when he wakes up hours later, everyone else is gone. Peak goes exploring only to find the guides Ebadullah and Elham “lying next to the cool water…Their throats are slit. The fronts of their kurtas are covered in dried blood. Their beards are caked in gore. Their eyes are open in surprise. Their rifles are gone. Their prayer rugs are unrolled. They were murdered during isha.”
- Peak finds one of the other climbers, Rafe, laying on the ground. “There was a four-inch gash on [Rafe’s] forehead, his nose was broken, his left ear was torn, his upper lip looked like he had bitten through it, and these were just the injuries [Peak] could see.”
- Rafe tells Peak that the others were kidnapped by “five or six guys. Afghans. Guns and knives.”
- A donkey does not want to keep walking. When Ethan pulls on the reins, “it bites Ethan in the butt.”
- Ethan was in the marines. He tells Peak, “I spent a couple years in Force Reconnaissance or Force Recon . . . It was a lot of fun until some gung-ho captain walked us into quicksand, which killed two men. He blamed us and became a major.”
- Peak and Ethan come across three mounds that turn out to be graves. Peak has to know, so he digs each one up. Peak says, “The first grave was Phillip’s. Like Elham and Ebadullah, his throat had been slit. I didn’t want to uncover the other two, but I had to know. The second was Aki. The third was Choma. I sat back, covered my face, and began sobbing with horror and relief. It could have been Mom or Zopa or Alessia or the film crew.”
- After Ethan finds the bodies of Phillip, Aki, and Choma, he says, “These dirtbags made the video crew film our friends’ execution. They’re going to use the tape to get money.”
- Ethan kills one of the guards keeping the hostages. Peak sees the guard “sitting on his blanket. His headlamp was pointed down at a deck of bloody cards.”
- Peak and some of the climbers come across a “crudely made rack” with a “snow leopard pelt.” The vultures flying overhead indicate to them that this poaching incident was recent.
- Alessia explains that her father was a conservation biologist who died “in the Congo when [she] was ten years old. Killed by rebels, they say, but [her] mother believes he was murdered by the gorilla poachers he was trying to stop.”
- Peak’s mom shoots the captors with a pistol. Peak describes, “She took a deep breath, let it out slowly, then squeezed the trigger. One of the men went down.” The description lasts for half a page.
- Ethan shoots Émile. When Peak sees Émile, he “was on the ground covered in blood.” Émile dies.
Drugs and Alcohol
- When Peak’s mom tells Peak’s stepfather, Rolf, that she and Peak are going to Afghanistan to climb, Rolf “pours himself a drink.”
- Peak mentions that he “read that Afghanistan grows more opium than any other country in the world.” To this, Tony says, “It’s a four-billion-dollars-a-year industry with about twenty-five percent of that money going to the farmer and the rest divided between district officials, insurgents, warlords, and drug traffickers.”
- Peak finds a cigarette butt while heading back to base camp. As they keep walking, Peak finds “three more Gauloises cigarette butts.”
- Ethan tells Peak about his time in Iraq. He says, “We broke up a tobacco-smuggling operation . . . Learned more than I ever wanted to know about tobacco. There are a lot of counterfeit cigarette operations. The Taliban actually make money here running cigarettes when they aren’t smuggling dope.”
- Light language is used infrequently. Some words include nuts, nutcase, oaf, idiots, jerk, moron, dense, and dumb.
- Cindy says about the Afghan guards, “All they do is stare at me, or leer, and I’m pretty sure they’re making snide remarks, but I don’t know what they’re saying.” Cindy is wearing tight-fitting clothing that is brightly patterned. Peak “looked at her snakeskin pants and had a pretty good idea what they were saying. Women in Muslim countries don’t dress like Cindy.”
- When the donkey bites Ethan in the butt, Peak laughs and says, “Now you can say you’ve been bitten in the ass by an ass.”
- Peak suggests that the snow leopard (shen) that he keeps seeing is watching over them. Ethan says, “You’re not going all magical thinking on me, are you?” To which Peak replies, “It works for Zopa. And we could use some magic.” Ethan replies, “Wish I had a magic wand, or an invisibility cloak.”
- Tony mentions that the only hiccup they might have landing the plane in Afghanistan is that they’re landing “just before afternoon prayers.” Peak then describes, “I’d just read about these prayers in one of Mom’s books. Devout Muslims pray five times a day. Fajr, just before dawn. Zuhr, noon. Asr, afternoon. Maghrib, sunset. Isha, evening.”
- Tony talks about the local Afghan people, saying, “Like most of the one point six billion Muslims in the world, the Afghans are trying to live a good life, raise their families, and get by. Ninety-five percent of them are great people. The other five percent have a strange take on the Koran. I suspect this percentage holds true for Christians and their Bible as well.”
- The call to prayer sounds as Peak leaves the plane. Peak describes, “A sound came from somewhere outside. A mysterious sound. A beautiful sound . . . It seemed to come from all around on the hot, dry air.” It is coming from the minaret attached to the airport’s mosque.
- Tony runs to the mosque for the afternoon prayer. He yells to Peak, “I am one of those one point six billion Muslims I was telling you about, as are my sister and two brothers. My parents are Protestants.”
- Cindy, Phillip’s girlfriend, complains that there’s no running water or electricity at the base camp. She then says, “But we do have a camel and a donkey. All we’re missing is the Virgin Mother and a manger.”
- Cindy makes a comment about the mountains being a “god-forsaken place,” which upsets Peak. Peak thinks, “I wanted to tell her that mountains are not godforsaken places. They are where humans go to find God, which is kind of the whole point of humans climbing mountains.”
- Partway through a hike, an Afghan guide named Elham does the evening prayer, “kneeling toward Mecca on a small prayer rug he had pulled out of his little pack.”
- Peak tells Alessia that he was on Everest, and her eyes “got that look. It was like I had just said I’d met God.”
- Zopa refers to the snow leopard as a “living Talisman.”
- Alessia asks Peak about Zopa. She asks, “Do you think that by above, he meant that God would save us?”
by Alli Kestler