So I’m not sure if it was a change in schedule/routine around our home, my anxiety brain, or the book itself, but I had a really difficult time finishing “Cameron Battle and the Hidden Kingdoms” by Jamar J. Perry. The book itself was wonderfully middle grade and features an all Black cast of characters, which seems to be unusual for currently published middle grade fantasy novels (which SHOULDN’T BE THE CASE). I’ll lay down a quick summary and then give you my disappointments and delights as always.
Cameron Battle grew up reading and treasuring The Book of Chidani, a storybook about an African kingdom that removed itself from the world to save its people from the transatlantic slave trade (think Wakanda vibes, but magic instead of tech). The Book, passed from generation to generation in Cameron’s family, is precious to him as it’s one of the few reminders he has of his parents, who disappeared and were considered dead two years ago. Since their disappearance, his grandma has kept the book locked away in the attic. But during a thunderstorm, the power goes out and he and his friends Zion and Aliyah open the attic to find the electrical panel, but instead find themselves sucked into the book and transported to Chidani, where they learn that the kingdom is in grave danger and that Cameron is the last Descendant, brought to Chidani by the Book to save the kingdom (and the wider world) from destruction. Cameron and his friends find themselves set on a quest to recover the Queen’s three gifts from the Gods, stolen by her own sister, who wants to remove the barriers surrounding the timeless kingdom of Chidani.
- For me, the text moved both too slowly and too quickly. Too slow in the beginning – the exposition, which I usually don’t mind in a book, was longer than I felt it needed to be, but also sometimes too fast – sometimes I wanted more depth to the challenges they faced along the journey and more thought into what happening to the characters and their feelings and emotions.
- There was a lot of repetition in this book, to the point where some of the ideas/facts were hammered in so often, it became annoying to me as an adult reader. It was a similar feeling to the one I experienced when reading “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince” where I kept saying “Okay, Harry, I get it. Draco’s horrible and he’s doing something bad”. I felt like saying to Cameron during this book “Okay, Cameron, I get it, your parents are dead, you don’t want to be here, you don’t want your friends in peril, etc.” But for a pre-teen reader, this may not bother them in the same way. If they’re an avid fantasy reader, though, and they enjoy tackling things like Riordan or Rowling novels, this may lead to them feeling #3.
- The story felt “awkward” to me sometimes – the action didn’t flow in the way that I want a fantasy novel to flow. Sometimes things felt stilted or you weren’t sure what the POV was or where the magic was happening. And this might also be impacted by too many characters and/or world building that felt “unnatural” or rushed in some ways.
- A full Black/African cast of characters in a fantasy novel! Whooo! It’s sad that this is unfortunately an “oddity” and not a norm, but for a kid who’s looking to see a representation of themselves in a fantasy novel, this is fantastic!
- West African mythology is represented in a way that makes me want to learn more outside of the text on my own, but presented with enough information in the text that I know enough of the mythology that I can understand the gods/goddesses in the way the novel needs me to.
- Magical fighting styles, physical trials, special powers, hero’s journey type trials are all there. It makes the book rather action packed and would be a good hand off to readers who enjoy Rick Riordan or CS Lewis.