Let me begin by saying that writing a novel is a terrific achievement. I know, having written one ~ and only one. My hat is off to anyone who can complete a novel.
That said, here is my honest opinion of Jaguar Sun, a YA paranormal romantic thriller by Martha Bourke, which I finished reading Sunday.
Characters: Jaguar Sun‘s narrator is Maya Delaney, a 16-year-old Mayan, going to high school in New Mexico. Martha does a good job of describing Maya and her other characters through dialogue, action and description. Here’s Maya looking at her reflection in a mirror:
The dark sad eyes of my grandmother’s people stared back at me. I looked at my long dark hair, olive skin, and high cheekbones. Locals often mistook me for some kind of American Indian. But I was from a different tribe. I was Mayan.
And here’s a nice example of Maya’s 21st century teen personality.
“What?” I asked, opening a can of diet Coke (aka, my elixir of life).
“You look like crap, that’s what,” Lyssa said.
“What, are you scouting for Vogue? I just haven’t been sleeping well lately,” I said, as I checked out some moron walking by our table with his jeans hanging below his butt.
(Speaking of fashion, should anyone really accessorize with underwear? I mean, besides like, Madonna?)
Her friends include boyfriend Matt, high-school quarterback; and best friends Damian and Lyssa, soccer-playing Hispanic twins.
Damian is intellectual and gay, Lyssa is spunky and sassy.
They are fun, if straightforward and uncomplicated — definitely supporting cast. Same with the adults in the novel. With one or two exceptions, which I won’t go into for spoiler reasons, the adults also function mostly as expected without twists, turns or surprises.
They are believable and competently drawn, however, and do their jobs well of advancing the action of the story.
Plot: As Winter solstice 2012 and the end of the Mayan calendar draw near, 16-year-old Maya Delaney discovers she is inextricably bound up with the new age prophesied to begin. As a result, the evil society “Toltec” wishes to use her to further their own greedy agenda for the coming change.
With the help of her friends and a band of Mayan elders, Maya learns to harness her own amazing powers, and tries to stay out of the clutches of Toltec until the solstice arrives, bringing with it a climactic showdown between good and evil.
Setting: The story plays out in and around a high school in the New Mexico desert, and later in a couple of hideouts in the Yucatan jungle. The desert and the jungle are both dramatic landscapes, and I felt Martha could’ve done a little more with them. Her YA audience, however, is probably less interested in landscapes than I am.
The Mayan pyramid El Castillo is the setting for the confrontation between good and evil at story’s end. This famous, magical landmark could definitely have been described more vividly.
What I though could’ve been done better: As I just mentioned, I thought the imposing dramatic grandeur of El Castillo could’ve been brought out a little better. A location like that can often serve almost as an additional character.
There is a bit of description:
I couldn’t take my eyes off of El Castillo, which was directly to my right. It looked so much taller than it did in photos and I couldn’t believe how steep the stairs were. There were ninety-one of them, practically all going straight up. I cringed.
Poor Maya has to run up those stairs to play her part in the end-of-days action. But I think Martha missed an opportunity to heighten the drama with better description of the looming landmark.
Also, the stakes of the game needed to be clearer and more vivid, in my opinion. Here’s the leader of the good guys explaining what’s at stake to Maya:
Adriana smiled. “Basically, we believe the Chilam Balam tells us that when the Mayan Long Count calendar ends on December 21st, a New Age will arrive. This New Age will be the opposite of our current times. There will be no war or violence, no greed, no hate. The earth will be cherished as it once was and no longer be destroyed as it now is. All of the peoples of the world will unite, and there will be an end to chaos.”
“That’s it? That’s what all the fuss has been about? All the TV shows and movies?”
“Well, no one is guaranteeing a smooth transition. There could be some bumps in the road. It would probably take weeks or even months to see the effects. Maybe longer. We can’t be sure.”
“And these Toltec people?”
“Toltec is by far the greatest threat to the change. They want very much to stop this from happening. Its members profit far too much from the fear, hatred, and chaos in the world the way it is now. They value money and power above all else. They are corrupt and evil.”
Here’s where Martha needs to use her considerable imagination to give an example of the horrors that could result if Toltec has its way. Something like —
“You think the world as it is now is bad?” Adriana asked. “If Toltec can extinguish the light of the coming new age, it’ll make the Dark Ages look like Happy Days. Think government by corporation backed by private armies with nuclear weapons. To start.”
The story should show readers how, if Maya fails, it will be the OMIGOD worst thing possible.
I also thought passive voice appeared too often. Here’s the chaos of the big battle at El Castillo:
People were shouting out names, looking for their friends and loved ones. I could see that the throng was headed toward the exit gate and was pushing way too hard. More people had fallen and were now being walked on.
Putting it in active voice and using more muscular verbs heightens the impact.
People shouted names. They shoved and fought as they searched for friends and loved ones amid the frenzied crowd. I saw the throng press toward the exit gate like some panicked million-legged beast. Doomed people stumbled and fell amid the madness and I felt, rather than heard the cries of agony from human beings crushed beneath…”
What I thought was good: Occasional use of passive voice notwithstanding, Martha’s has a clear, snappy style of writing that moves the story right along. I also enjoyed the glimpses into Mayan mysticism the book is built around. Here’s Maya geting her cards read:
“Okay,” she said, pulling a card out of the deck and laying it on the table, “Your sun sign is Balam, the Jaguar. That’s the obvious one. It’s the symbol of divinity.”
“Now, the Jaguar birth sign is also called the White Wizard, which is shown on this card.”
The picture (I mean, glyph) on the card looked nothing like a wizard. Actually, it looked kinda like a round white marshmallow.
“The White Wizard’s characteristics are Magician, Healer, and Psychic. And you must have a deep connection to Mother Earth.”
There’s some nice action, too, so I KNOW Martha can do vivid, active and muscular when she wants to. Here’s Maya dashing up those endless stone steps on El Castillo:
Jolted out of my stupor, I turned and pushed off against the steps. I threw everything I had into propelling myself upward. My legs burned. I could feel the shin splints coming before I even hit the halfway mark, but I let the adrenaline carry me. My lungs complained with each breath I took. I refused to take my eyes off the top. I pushed the pain to the back of my mind and kept climbing. I lost my footing and slipped several times, but each time I pushed myself up and kept going. At some point, I noticed that I was leaving bloodstains on the stones. I knew it would only be a matter of time before Toltec sent someone after me.
As I’ve already noted, Martha does a good job with her characters, especially their physical descriptions, something I like but that too many authors, imho, overlook.
But it’s Maya Delaney who makes Jaguar Sun an engaging read. Maya is a wonderful character. Sassy, snarky, charming, warm-hearted and self-deprecating, she is clearly the life and heart of the novel. If the stakes aren’t that clearly delineated, it’s still terrific fun just seeing how Maya reacts to and deals with all strange phenomena and revelations Martha throws her way.
And as an Indie book, Jaguar Sun, I think it’s worth noting, contains few-to-no typos, grammar errors, punctuation problems and other rough edges of too many self-published novels.
Overall: Jaguar Sun is a wonderful adventure with a teen hero struggling to make sense of life, love and fate. If Maya’s challenges seem larger and more colorful than that of most teens, I think the difference is really only one of scale.
In Maya Delaney, author Martha Bourke has created a memorable, engaging heroine — one I’m glad I got to know and spend time with.
Good job Martha!
And for a sexy superheroine paranormal sci fi romantic adventure thriller, check out my own novel American Goddesses ~ thanks for visiting Honest Indie!