Author: Louis Smith
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy
***I received a free copy of the book from the author in return for a review.***
Four friends, Parker, Callum, Riley, and Lucy, venture into their school playground at night and end up in an alternative world. Kidnapped by their teacher and the evil glothers, the children are brought to the magical land of Zarox.
The children soon learn that they were brought to Zarox to complete a quest, one which requires the group to go on a journey through the unfamiliar lands. Each armed with a special power, and a wise, magical guide, the group must race against time to find the pages of the Book of Zarox and help bring harmony back to the land.
At 21, it’s been a long time since I’ve read a middle grade fiction book. I think the last book I read of this genre was Chris Colfer’s Land of Stories in 2012 and even that feels like an age ago. I was dubious about reading a middle grade fiction book, thinking I was a bit too old for this genre, but it didn’t take me long to get back into the swing of it. Zarox immediately transported me back to the days where I used to read with a torch under the covers. I know that if Zarox had been around then, 10-year-old me would have snapped it up and devoured this book.
Zarox is a very clever novel. The fictional world it is set in is completely unique, the brainchild of the author Louis Smith. The creatures created by Smith are entirely exclusive to the world he has envisaged. He has designed beings such as relitars, glothers, and trallops, which are described as small creatures with big eyes that can create solid balls of light. The uniqueness of both the magic and the beings that create it is one of the book’s best assets.
The book is also remarkably well-written for a first novel. Smith has an ability to use complex language and discussions, yet allow the story to remain completely accessible to those of middle-grade age. The pacing, however, was a little off. Although it does not take long for the children to arrive in Zarox, I found some parts of the book to be either too text heavy or longer than they needed to be. This criticism only arises because I would have liked to be able to explore more of the intruiging world of Zarox, rather than focus on back-story and training. Nonetheless, I do not believe that this would be an issue for a younger reader.
I enjoyed spending time with the characters in this book. The friends, Lucy, Callum, Parker, and Riley, have very diverse personalities. Although the characters are very different, they always find a way to avoid potential clashes and be kind to each other. In a world of violent games which are accessible from a young age, I believe that not rising to conflict and learning to resolve issues through discussion is an important lesson for people of middle grade age to learn. Smith, through Zarox, delivers this message loud and clear.
Although the personalities of the characters and the different beings in the book are diverse, there is little diversity within gender: the book lacks female representation. Smith promises more female characters in the next book, but the scarcity of them in Zarox may limit the book’s market by making it less accessible to female readers.
Overall, I greatly enjoy this book. Not only is the writing and story clever, but the land that Smith has created can be described as nothing less than magical. This book would be perfect for any middle-grader with a sense of adventure and a liking for the unusual. If you’re looking for a book gift for a young person this Christmas, Zarox could be a winner.