Book Review: Athena’s Son by Jeryl Schoenbeck

13247385Title: Athena’s Son
Author: Jeryl Schoenbeck
Genre: Middle Grade, Adventure, Historical Fiction
Publisher: Papyrus Publishing
Publication Date: December 3rd 2011
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Review copy provided by the author in exchange for honest review.

In 276 BC, Egyptians are terrified when a series of murders are linked to Anubis, god of the dead. The evidence is inexplicable. The victims’ bodies have no wounds and the killer’s tracks are enormous animal prints. Egyptians believe the jackal-headed god doesn’t want the new lighthouse build. The pharaoh needs someone special to solve the crimes, someone with the skills and intellect to track down a vengeful god.
Twelve-year-old Archimedes is that person. He is blessed by Athena, goddess of wisdom and war, with extensive knowledge of science, mechanics, and medicine. He has to tread carefully when he applies the cold logic of Greek science in a sultry, mystical world of Egyptian culture. But when an ancient scroll puts him on the path of the killer, it also brings another god back from the dead. Now Archimedes is going to need Athena’s war skills.

Athena’s Son is hard book to classify. Because of the main character’s age, I would put it in the Middle Grace category, but so much is going on, some of the things really complicated, that made me think perhaps it’s better suited for older children. Nevertheless, it can be read by Middle Graders and any ages up, and it makes for an intriguing read, with enjoyable, relatable characters and a bunch of mysteries piled on top of each other – a delight to try and solve those!

The novel starts out with a murder. Workers are building a light house, but an entity keeps on mysteriously killing the workmen. Animal trails are seen in the sand nearby. Some of the locals think it’s one of the Egyptian Gods – half human, half animal – who’s come back to take revenge on the Greek suppressors of Alexandria. Amidst these terrors, young Archimedes is brought to Alexandria by ship. In the city, he will study at the Library, where is accepted as one of the youngest pupils ever. However, Archimedes’ journey to the Library isn’t without danger: while solving a problem with the carts in front of the temple, he gets arrested by the temple’s high priest and brought to the Library.

In the Library, Archimedes meets Berenike, the daughter of the Pharaoh, who is working to solve the mystery that is Alexander The Great’s death. She’s discovered an ancient scroll in the library suggesting his death may not have been an illness after all. While Berenike is trying to solve a century-old murder mystery, Archimedes gets sucked into a contemporary one: upon the Pharaoh’s command, he has to try and solve the mystery of who is murdering the lighthouse workers, and to what end. Is it truly an Egyptian God descended to earth and extracting vengeance, or is the culprit a fellow human being?

The strength of Athena’s Son is how wonderfully the author combines mythology, adventure, mystery, ancient history and science. Archimedes is a boy of silence: he likes making new items, sort of like an engineer. He has a logical mind, which he uses to try and solve the murder mystery. The mystery is the common thread throughout the entire book, linking the events together. I had it figured out pretty quickly, but that didn’t take away the fun. So much happens in the book that it never seems to slow down, and Archimedes tumbles from one adventure into the other.

The only thing I had some trouble with was Archimedes himself. I had the feeilng I didn’t really get to know him. Besides the fact he’s smart, he likes solving puzzles, and he has an obvious liking for Benedike, I hardly knew anything about him personality-wise. The fast-paced plot and twists and turns made up for a lot of that, but at the end I was still left wondering: who is Archimedes? what does he like? what is he afraid of? Another thing I was slightly wary of, was Archimedes relationship with Benedike. It seemed very unlikely to ever happen in real life, and the way Benedike was so casual about it, didn’t work for me. I don’t think ancient Pharaophs would like their daughters falling for scholars, no matter how brilliant they are.

Apart from those minor pet peeves, this book was great. I had fun from start to end. The ancient city of Alexandria came to live on the pages of the book, the characters were unique and interesting, and of course, the plot was sublime. I read this in one reading, unable to put it down.

I highly recommend this book to fans of ancient Greek, history, and murder mysteries. Middle graders will love to read this book, especially if they’re interested in science or history.

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