The Smoking Mirror / by David Bowles. 7.22.2016

IFWG Publishing, Inc. ISBN 9781925148640

HS Grades 7-12 Rating: 3

A Pura Belpré Author Honor book for 2016, David Bowles’ The Smoking Mirror incorporates Aztec and Mayan mythology into a modern fantasy about 12-year-old twins, Johnny and Carol Garza.

Johnny and Carol Garza are trying to come to terms with the recent loss of their mother, whose abrupt disappearance remains a mystery, as well as their father who is becoming increasingly distant as he likewise struggles to cope with his loss. As a result of these issues, the twins are sent to live with their mother’s family in Mexico. There, they find out about the special powers that are their heritage, and ultimately embark on a quest into the Aztec underworld in search of their mother.

The story provides an informative glimpse into Mexican culture and its Mesoamerican mythology and folklore. The plot moves quickly–once in the Underworld, the twins are thrust from one danger into another. Through their adventures, Johnny and Carol learn about their own strengths and grow closer as they come to rely on each other. With a large caste of gods and monsters, the book has invited comparison to Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series and will likely appeal to a similar audience, although Bowles’ writing is less polished and character development is lacking.

There is mild violence, shape-shifting, and one scene involving human sacrifice. The characters believe in the Aztec and Mayan deities and mysticism, and seem to treat their Catholic religion on a par with these beliefs. Despite some darker themes, the story is handled with a light touch. The book’s ending sets the scene for more to come in the series.

Angela L. Walsh, CLJ