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Entertaining *and* Educational: A Book Review of The Jericho River

When the solicitation for David W. Tollen’s The Jericho River made its way to our inbox, I was hesitant to accept at first. Mostly because I was neck deep in reading for work and also working my way through An Almost Tangent, the second installment in Bryan Perkins‘ Infinite Limits series.

But I’m a rampant bibliophile, so I relented and looked the book up on Amazon, glancing over customer reviews. They sold the book well, and not without good reasons.

[divider] Review of The Jericho River: Plot Synopsis [/divider]

The Jericho River tells the tale of teenage Jason Gallo as he navigates the dream world of Fore in search of his lost father. His dad, William Gallo, is a history professor who stumbles upon a unique, alternative research method. Upon entering a dream state, William could survey all of history at his leisure by adventuring through Fore. A single night in real time could translate to months in this dream world. But when Jason finds his father in a comatose state, a mysterious doctor explains that Jason must journey to Fore himself and bring his father back.

Jason enters Fore in ancient Sumer and his travels down the Jericho River take him into and through the major epochs and eras of Western civilization’s evolution as he desperately searches for his father. He is joined by Zidu, a “lumin” with the body of a lion and head of a man; Tia, an Egyptian priestess; and Rim-Hadad, a barbarian; all the while being harried and hunted himself by someone called “The Rector” who wishes Jason captured.

[divider] Review of The Jericho River [/divider]

There are some things The Jericho River does very well. Among the best elements of the novel: The Screen Shot 2015-11-16 at 12.00.02 PMcharacterization and development of the young Jason Gallo. As a YA novel, presenting a peer protagonist that the target market can empathize with is crucial, and Tollen nails it.

Jason is wrestling with the death of his mother, a strained relationship with his overly-busy dad, and even the possibility that his dad is “moving on” from his deceased mother. Because of factors like these, Jason is reluctant to enter Fore and bring his dad back.

However, as the book progresses, so too do Jason’s motivations and feelings about his father. Jason’s own history and his maturation is wonderfully done. He is, perhaps, my favorite YA protagonist to date as far as those two elements are concerned.

Several of the reviews harped on the historical elements contained within the pages. Besides serving as a dynamic setting, little tidbits of historical fact are peppered throughout in footnote form – presented as citations from William Gallo’s own research.

While the historicity is interesting and informative, I definitely think it played second fiddle to Jason. As it should. I was a little worried going in that the historical elements would eclipse all else…especially after reading some reviews that the book could find its way into curriculums. But Tollen strikes a solid balance in my opinion. You learn a few things, but you never once get the sense that you’re reading a text book or anything akin to one.

I didn’t care for the illustrations throughout, nor are the included maps and timeline in the appendices necessary to the reading…but when are they ever? Tolkien included both in several of his books as well. Those that took advantage of them certainly got something more from them, but those that ignored them were not found lacking any necessary information. The difference:  We’re not dealing with fiction here. And that lends itself again to possible (albeit I should think limited) educational use for the book.

The presence and role of mythos in the sequential cultures that Jason explores is interesting as well. Lumins like Zidu grow increasingly rare downriver (towards modern civilization). Around the Enlightenment period, they are actively hunted. A group called the International Empirical Society has made it their mission to rid the world of myth and magic in favor of reason and logic, and the implications even further downstream are ominous. Did the Society succeed? Is science the new god?

At first I balked at that implication as I personally don’t believe religion and science are mutually exclusive, but I don’t think that is Tollen’s ultimate position at all. Instead, the climax of the narrative seems to suggest that we need saving from such a position. I don’t want to give too much away, but Tollen’s choice of savior is thought provoking in my opinion.

Great, great way to end the book. And a bit meta, I think, given that this book succeeds at presenting the very same subject matter as that which William Gallo is purposed to be penning himself!

[divider] Review of The Jericho River: Final Thougths [/divider]

The Jericho River is a solid read. While I do not think it is “as educational as it is entertaining” (a quote from a review displayed prominently on the book’s back cover), I also do not think that its quality is in any way diminished by that (my) opinion.

Another of Tollen’s books, Secrets of Hominea, is advertised just inside the rear cover, and I am inclined to pick it up when it releases based on his careful work between the covers of The Jericho River. See for yourself by buying it for Kindle or in paperback from Amazon. I’m confident you’ll find it to be accessible, engaging, and entertaining whether you’re 13 or 30.


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