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“All good stories have peril and risks, stakes so great that the reader shivers in their bed, wondering what will happen to the young hero. Worrying that the young hero has made a grave error in judgment,” Itzamana. –The Fire Keeper
The Fire Keeper
Storm Runner #2
by J.C. Cervantes
Living on a secluded tropical island should bring happiness to Zane Obispo. He is surrounded by his family and his friends. Zane is frustrated that he still can’t control his newfound fire skills that he inherited from his father. Zane is also convinced that he is the only one who can save his father, the Maya god Hurakan, who is now in prison. Plus, there is a painful rift between him and his dog ever since she became a hellhound.
Zane and his shape-shifting friend, Brooks, plan to take action and find a way to save Hurakan. But their plans come to a sudden halt when they discover that their island home is a prison. They can’t leave the island. When another godborn shows up, Zane and Brooks know they must come up with a plan to save Hurakan as well as the godborns who are in danger. Zane has no idea how to find the godborns or who would have taken them hostage.
Zane and his friends must race against time and save his father before he is executed. But first he must find the godborns before they can be hunted down and killed. In a world where Maya gods cannot be trusted, who can Zane trust to lead him in the right direction? How can a mere boy save both the godborns and his father?
The Fire Keeper is an action-packed adventure that never lacks a dull moment. As Zane and his friends jump through portals looking for clues to the whereabouts of the godborns, they meet several gods and monsters. Even though Zane doesn’t trust Ah-Puch, the previous god of death, he teams up with the god in a desperate attempt to save both the godborns and Hurakan. The constant question of who can be trusted adds to the suspenseful tone of the story.
Before readers pick up The Fire Keepers, they will need to read The Storm Runner. Zane’s story includes a huge cast of characters—monsters, magical creatures, godborns—which are introduced in The Storm Runner. Another aspect that may cause readers confusion is when Zane and his uncle occasionally mix Spanish words into their dialogue. Although readers should be able to use context clues to understand the word’s meaning, struggling readers may find the mix of English and Spanish difficult. Both The Storm Runner and The Fire Keepers have a complicated plot and an extensive cast of characters which may intimidate struggling readers.
All of Zane’s friends make an appearance in the second installment of the story. The addition of Ren, who is also a godborn, gives the story more humor. Ren is convinced that the Maya gods are aliens, and her refusal to change her mind breaks up the tense scenes. In addition to Ren, Ah-Puch has a starring role in the story which allows readers to see the god of death in a unique way. Some readers may be disturbed by Ah-Puch because he drinks bat’s blood to gain power. For example, he grabbed several bats and “snapped their necks, and turned his back to us as he drank their blood.”
The Fire Keeper brings the magic of Maya mythology to life in a fast-paced, action-packed story that will leave readers with a new understanding of the complicated nature of people (and gods). Zane is a very likable character, who clearly cares about others. The Storm Runner series is perfect for fans of the Percy Jackson series or of Aru Shah and the End of Time. However, Zane’s story takes a more serious tone and lacks the humor of the other series.
- Zane thinks back to when he “almost kissed Brooks last month at the bonfire. Emphasis on almost. It didn’t happen, okay.”
- While on the beach, Zane sees “a small shadow, no bigger than a fist, slid over the boat’s edge and began to grow into a tall column. Before I could blink twice, three shadow monsters emerged from the column, spreading their colossal wings. Long insect-like arms and legs sprouted from their swollen, pulsing bodies. . . Rosie exploded into killer-hellhound mode, shooting fireballs out of her mouth and eyes. . . One monster swiped Brooks away, sending her crashing into the violent black sea.” When Ren wakes up, the shadows disappear. The scene is described over three pages.
- A mud monster takes the shape of Ms. Cab. “This demon version of Ms. Cab reached into her dress pocket and pulled out a small red bird. Using a small knife from the table, she split the bird’s chest open, and a flurry of tiny winged beetles escaped. . .The bedazzled beetles swarmed me [Zane], climbing all over my body, their teeny feet stepping across every inch of my skin, up my cheeks and across my scalp.” Zane surprises the demon when he “swept my storm runner leg across the intruder’s ankles, bringing her to the ground with a loud thud.” Brooks and Rosie show up and help Zane. “Flames erupted from Rosie’s eyes and mouth. . . Bright blue flames engulfed Ms. Cab as her screams rose into the air. . .The thing’s skin dripped to the ground in a sizzling heap of goop that smelled like canned spinach and burning hair. All that was left of Monster Cab was a lumpy statue made of hard, cracked mud, its expression frozen with terrified eyes and a wide contorted mouth.”
- When Ren dreams, she creates shadow monsters. One of the monsters attacks Zane and his dog. When Zane tries to help his dog, his “spear sailed right through the form and looped back to me. I drop-rolled to the ground, swiping at Top Hat’s remaining stilt with my leg. I connected with nada. . .The shadow reached for me. I tried to scramble away from his grasp, but in a flash, he caught me, clutching my ribs so tightly I couldn’t move or breathe.” Ren wakes up and the shadow disappears.
- Zane and his group are attacked by bats. “They were bats with curled, flesh-colored claws and crooked fangs. . .The bats landed on me [Zane]. . . Their little claws tap-danced all over my back, up my neck, and across my head. Their mouths pressed against my ears and cheeks, breathing hot puffs of air. . . One of the beasts had his mouth wide open, and he plunged a mouthful of fangs into the back of my hand.” Ah-Puch “stood upright, seizing the bats out of the air with such incredible speed his arms were only a blur.” The bat’s blood gives Ah-Punch more strength and the group is able to escape. The scene is battled over three pages.
- Zane falls into a trap and when he wakes up, he “couldn’t open [his] eyes. I was blindfolded. I couldn’t move, either—my hands and feet were bound to some kind of tree or wooden pole.”
- To free Zane, his uncle Hondo attacks the bats. “Hondo whirled, did a backflip, and kicked a few of the bloodsucking beasts in midair before landing. . . Hondo swung his crowbar mightily, but he was losing. The bats attacked him claws-first, tearing at his cheeks and neck.” When it looks like someone might die, Ah-Puch helps. “Then in a whirl of shadow and dust, Ah-Puch surfaced and blindsided the one god with a massive shard of glass, driving it deep into the bat’s ribs and slicking upward with a nauseating ripppppp.” During the fighting, Ah-Puch is attacked by a god. The god “leaped at the god of death, fangs bared. His claws slashed, ripping Ah-Puch like paper. Thick blood spilled onto the dirt.”
- During the multi-chapter battle, Zane shoots “fire bullets from my hands, aiming precisely for the guy’s eyes. His bat wings didn’t deflect them fast enough this time. He screamed, shook his head, and looked back at us with empty, scorched sockets.”
- Zane tries to free his father by attacking the villains. Zane “went after them, shooting dozens of fire bullets from my hands and nailing them in the chest, but it didn’t stop their rage. . . Just then, Rosie appeared by my side, blue flames exploding from her mouth as Jordan swept down with ferocious speed, slicking my neck with a razor-sharp claw.” A friend saves Zane.
Drugs and Alcohol
- Someone gives Zane a drugged candy. After he eats it, he feels terrible, and “felt a sharp pain in my back, like I’d been stabbed with an ice dagger. . . Cold sweat dripped down my face, and my insides felt like a giant fist was wringing them out. Uncontrollable shivers gripped me as my mind stumbled over all my memories. . .”
- Zane walks through a wedding reception, where “a few guys stood in the corner doing shots and slamming their fists on the table. . .” When a waiter comes by carrying “a tray of what might have been champagne,” Zane’s uncle yells, “How about a drink?”
- After fighting with huge bats and surviving, Ah-Puch drinks “a one-hundred-year-old bottle of tequila.”
- Crap and heck are used occasionally. For example, when Zane goes through a portal, he lands on a frozen lake. He thinks, “Crap! Crappity crap!”
- “Oh my gods” is used as an exclamation once.
- Zane calls people a jerk three times. Zane thinks the gods are “jerks” because “they wanted to be rid of godborns.”
- Someone tells Zane, “Hey, wake your flojo butt up.”
- “Holy hell” is used once.
- Hondo refers to someone as a “moron.”
- Several times someone calls Zane an “idiot.”
- Gods and monsters from Maya mythology are real. Ixtab, the queen of the underworld, uses shadow magic to hide Zane from the other gods. However, the shadow magic also makes Zane and Brooks prisoners who cannot leave the island they are living on.
- Brooks is a nawal (a shapeshifter) who can turn into a hawk.
- Zane’s dog, Rosie, is a hellhound who can breathe fire. In the previous book, Rosie went to the underworld. Zane can also talk to Rosie telepathically. When Rosie licks a wound, the wound heals. Rosie can also teleport. During the adventure, Rosie sprouts wins and can fly.
- Zane’s father is a Maya god. Zane is trying to learn how to control fire. “Ixtab had told me that my skin and anything touching it was nonflammable.”
- Zane’s father gave him a jaguar tooth and “the amulet was fused with the most ancient and potent magic in the universe. I could use the amulet to spirit jump to the Empty, and also to grant any power to whoever I gave it to.”
- Ren’s mother is a goddess. She can make shadow monsters appear, but she doesn’t know how to control them.
- Ms. Cab was a Maya seer, but “ever since Ixtab had turned her into a chicken for a short time, Ms. Cab could actually speak bird, which helped them trust her.”
- Ms. Cab tells about the first humans who were made from mud. “But the people ended up being dumb and weak, so the gods destroyed them.”
- Ixtab takes Zane to a scrying pool, and tells him, “Souls live inside the sacred waters and help me see things.”
- Zane must find the Fire Keeper because “the Fire Keeper can read each lick of the flame, each glimmer in the embers. He sees what no one else can—places, people, events—with perfect clarity. Choices and outcomes. He can even manipulate the future.”
- When Zane goes into a church, he can hear people’s prayers through the candles they lit. While in the church, Zane lights a candle and “said a silent prayer.”