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Catacombs and the Forbidden City Review by Kathy Gelzer

Sarah Gerdes
RPM Publishing
PO Box 1417
Issaquah, WA 98038

Catacombs and the Forbidden City, book one in the Catacombs series, is a historical fantasy novel for ages 9-12. It takes place mostly during the Ming Dynasty in China. It is available in two formats: PDF file and hard-copy educator edition, which is 212 pages and spiral-bound. The latter is what I received. There is room to make notes in the margins or between the lines. The story centers on Cage and Mia, two modern-day 14-year-old twins. They find themselves traveling through time with their volcanologist father to ancient China on a mission to protect two magical orbs (gifts from their great-grandfather) from the evil men who are after them. It is an exciting, action-packed plot that incorporates martial arts, ancient Chinese culture and history, some earth science, and lots of good versus evil.

Through the author's website one may download free the table of contents, the first six chapters, a map of the Chinese setting, two study guides (one generic and one for Christian educators), student projects, and historical notes. The general study guide is a list of questions in the categories of history, geology, and writing. I appreciate that the answers are included with these discussion questions. The Christian educator's study guide has deeper spiritual discussion topics but no answers. Since many of the questions can be answered from a personal standpoint, this makes sense. I'm sure some good Bible detective work would be required to answer some of these!

The book contains excellent imagery and very smooth writing. Admirable values of teamwork and persistence amidst dangerous creatures, people, and situations abound. However, there is also a fairly large amount of graphic violence and gore in the book--bloody descriptions, stabbings, impaling, torture, and threats of torture. The detailed descriptions of a dead man coming back to life as a zombie were so nauseatingly grotesque that I couldn't write about them with a clear conscience or a stable stomach. Although this is exactly the type of thing that holds many adolescents' attention, I was often reminded of Philippians 4:8 ("Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely . . ."). In fact, I chose not to share the book with my children for this reason, even though two of them fall into the target age category.

My copy contained quite a few typos, which were distracting. It would be more professional to clean up the text for future editions. I would like to see some illustrations scattered throughout the text, and footnotes explaining some of the specialized martial arts vocabulary would be helpful.

The story line is action-driven and compelling. Fans of the fantasy genre will want to consider Catacombs and the Forbidden City, especially if they are not put off by blood and gore.

Product review by Kathy Gelzer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, July 2007