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Explorers of the New Century by Magnus Mills

Posted on February 13th, 2014
 Explorers of the New Century by Magnus MillsExplorers of the New Century by Magnus Mills
Published by Bloomsbury in 2005
Pages: 184
Location: Fictional
Mode of travel: Ship, Trek
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four-stars
It is the beginning of the century and two teams of explorers are racing across a cold, windswept, deserted land to reach the furthest point from civilization. It is, they find, 'an awfully long way'. Johns and his men take the western route, along a rocky scree, gossiping, bickering and grumbling as they go. Meanwhile, Tostig's men make their way along the dry riverbed in the east - they are fewer, with just five men and ten mules, and better organised than their rivals. But with Johns team keeping pace in the distance, the race is on to reach the Agreed Furthest Point.

Verdict: I really enjoyed it!

I thought Explorers of the New Century was just going to be a satire on the subject of scientific expeditions. You know, the styles and levels of organization, the clash of personalities, the competitive machismo and posturing (or wholesome, manly attitudes, depending on your point of view), the arbitrary goal, with the elusive Agreed Furthest Point (from civilization) and the unspecified date and location underscoring the abstract nature of the story. All that is there… except the goal… the goal really took me by surprise once I found out what it was. But then, everything that happened next, terrible and astonishing as it was, made sense in context.

Is Explorers of the New Century more than just a short little book which stuns the reader with an astonishing twist? It doesn’t waste words on unnecessary descriptions and analyses, but I think I would have enjoyed it if had been only the book I was expecting. The individual expedition members are all well differentiated and their interactions and contributions to their expeditions would still have made it an interesting and funny short read. The landscape is chilling in its otherworldly bleakness but the stark contrast between the routes taken by the competing expeditions heightens the difference between their methods, successes and failures.

Tiger’s Voyage by Colleen Houck

Posted on February 11th, 2014
Tiger’s Voyage by Colleen HouckTiger's Voyage by Colleen Houck
Series: The Tiger Saga #3
Published by Random House in 2011
Pages: 560
Location: India
Mode of travel: Boat, Jeep, Magical Animal, Scuba, Trek
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two-stars
With the head-to-head battle against the villainous Lokesh behind her, Kelsey confronts a new heartbreak: in the wake of his traumatic experience, her beloved Ren no longer remembers who she is. As the trio continues their quest by challenging five cunning and duplicitous dragons, Ren and Kishan once more vie for her affections--leaving Kelsey more confused than ever.

Verdict: let the synopsis stand as a warning.

In theory, Tiger’s Voyage has a huge amount of potential as an adventure story. It’s an epic-sized book which includes a trek across the Indian jungle, a yacht trip half-way around India, and scuba diving around the magical world of some Chinese dragons on a quest for the goddess Durga’s black pearl necklace which is needed to break a curse.

In reality, as the synopsis indicates, all these fantastic possibilities take a back seat to Kelsey, Ren and Kishan’s love life. It goes on and on and on, sometimes descending into misogyny. Clearly a lot of people are getting a huge kick out of reading about it. Not me, but a lot of people.

I really only have a few more observations to make about this book.

  • This is the third book in the series and I haven’t read the other two. I don’t expect the author to hold my hand over this – I was quite prepared to pick things up as we went along. If Kelsey, the first-person narrator, spent even a fifth as much time thinking about the curse, quest and adventure as she does about her love life, I probably would have done. As it is, I still have very little idea what it’s all about, though I know exactly what went on between her and Kishan in Shangri La (book 2) and between her and Ren in Oregon (book 1).
  • As a story about a love triangle and in the spirit of ‘show don’t tell’ it would help if we didn’t just have Kelsey’s friends’ constant word for the fact that she’s fantastic and the center of the universe. After finishing the book, I tried making a list I called Kelsey’s Impressive Skills and Achievements. I’m not going to post them here because they would be spoilers but there are really only three or four of them anyway. They take up a fraction of the book. I thought she was a bit of a wimp.
  • As a story about a love triangle it’s a problem that Ren’s behavior is completely unacceptable yet a) Kelsey doesn’t see it, b) nobody else tries to tell him he’s wrong and c) we aren’t given any reason for it, e.g. PTSD from his ordeal in book 2 running deeper than anyone thinks.
  • The plot of the adventure proper, the part with the dragons, didn’t have the complexity I would expect of a YA book. Most of the mythology is quite loosely made up which would be fine if it added up to something but it doesn’t. Maybe it would benefit from more in depth research to suggest plot twists and complexity.
  • Anybody who gets inspired by this series to go and visit India is in for a bit of a surprise. Kelsey only really emerges from her love haze when there’s something opulent to notice. The huge, over-crowded, noisy, complex and only very locally opulent maelstrom of modern India completely passes her by.

Map of southern IndiaAll the same, you should go. And just to encourage you further, here’s a map of southern India with the route taken by the tigers.

In chapters 2-4, Kelsey, Ren and Kishan drive to the Yawal Wildlife Reservation and hike into it over two days to visit Phet. The village they live near must be somewhere between Mumbai and Jalgaon. I love this blog post by Sundeep Krishna that gives a great idea of the Yawal woodland and the drive to get there, even if it is very 4WD orientated.

The team’s location in Goa, one of India’s smaller states, is unspecified. I’m also not sure which temple of Durga the Tiger Team visited in Mangalore but it may be Kateel. If you know better, please drop me a line in the comments thread.

This is a really beautiful page about the Shore Temple in Mahabalipuram, where Kelsey met Lady Silkworm and obtained a map through the dragons’ world.

And here’s one they unaccountably missed but which we visited many years ago, in February 2000. The temple of Devi Kanya Kumari at the very tip of India, where the three seas meet. There are some interesting resonances between the Durga stories in the book and the one related to this temple.

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