El Dorado - the lost city of gold; legend or history? Myth or conspiracy? It’s an enigma which has captured people’s imaginations for centuries and has consequently spawned many books, films and television shows. Personally I’ve always loved the tales about El Dorado and the endeavours of intrepid explores that try to uncover its riches, The 1970’s animated TV show ‘Mysterious Cities of Gold’ had me transfixed for many hours of my childhood, and I’m probably the only person on the planet who likes the fourth Indiana Jones movie. However it is a resource which seems to be very under-used in modern children’s literature. So imagine my delight to discover Ruth Eastham’s new books, The Jaguar Trials! The book is beautifully designed, clad in gold foil depicting the titular jaguar in Inca style patterns on a mat black background.
Opening up the gleaming cover and it just gets better, the story covers all the aspects you’d desire in a yarn about the attempts to discover the golden city; adventure, magic, mythical beasts, perilous jungles and dangerous adversaries. The plot starts running and keeps gathering pace to the jaw dropping finale.
The Jaguar Trials introduces us to Ben as he accompanies his father on an expedition through the Amazon rain forest on the trail of El Dorado. Father and son are traveling by boat off-course down the meandering river through the emerald forest with the ‘financers’ son, the nervous and ever anxious Rafael, when disaster strikes. The trip is sabotaged, causing the boat to explode and sink, the two boys survive the incident and the resulting waterfall decent but are separated from Ben’s father with the knowledge that he probably didn’t survive and that NO ONE knows where they are.
The pair saved a rare black jaguar with one blue and one amber eye (much like Ben’s un-matching eyes) from the boat before it went down and release it into the wild. The mysterious beast swipes Ben with its claws, leaving him with a serious wound. Together, with Rafael’s infinite knowledge about everything/anything that can kill you in the jungle and Ben’s resolute calm, they manage to trek through the forest discovering the camp of Professor Erskine and his team of explorers.
The Professor helps the boy’s, feeding them and tending to Ben’s wounds and when he sees Ben’s eyes and his Jaguar marks takes him to see the local Shaman. The Shaman consorts with forest spirits and tells Ben that his is the prophesized child that will find El Dorado, reunite the king and lead the Unquiet Spirits back to be at peace in the golden city. If Ben completes the quest not only will he save the souls of the thousands of indigenous people that haunt the forest but also release his father from the Spirit World. All that Ben need to do is complete a series of trials in order to find the clues that guide the way to the lost city beginning with The Trial of Hanging Shroud.
With the help of Rafael and the Shaman’s granddaughter Yarra, Ben gradually completes each trail, having to embrace animal’s spirts by acting like them, (driving like a kingfisher, swinging like a monkey) and get closer and closer to finding the golden city. But the closer he gets, the more perilous the journey becomes when he learns that he’s not the first prophesized child; that a boy before him that was marooned alone in the jungle was lead to the golden cities gate by a black jaguar, and that now grown boy in adult hood is desperately seeking the city and will stop at nothing even murder to find it.
The Jaguar Trials is an action packed intriguing adventures that draws upon the mythology surrounding the lost city, creating a story which is part adventure, part thriller and part mystery with a good helping of magic, which should enthral any reader.