Pumpkinhead Productions: Charleston, SC
On a more or less random basis, I have over the past few years, reviewed archaeology faction written for younger readers. Just in time for summer vacation (and I do hope youngsters still occasionally tear themselves away from I-phone games to read a book or two) I was made aware of Robert Bresloff’s The Fifth Codex. This little treasure (it runs to just 202 pages) is the first of an anticipated trilogy of novels, written for middle schoolers, that follows the exploits of Midwestern-born archaeologist and Mayan expert, Richard Woodson (“Woody”), his young Mayan understudy Pedro, and Marilyn Trotter– known affectionately as “Blue”—an archaeologist and ex-girlfriend of Woodson’s.
The action begins when Pedro discovers a manuscript in a cylinder hidden within the ruins of Tulum, a magnificent archaeological site located in the state of Quintana Roo in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. Woodson begins to translate the manuscript, which appears to be the long lost journal of Gonzalo Guerrero. Guerrero was an actual historical figure—a Spanish sailor shipwrecked with fifteen others in 1511 off the coast of Quintana Roo. Captured by the Maya, only Guerrero and Geronimo de Aguilar were still alive by the time Hernan Cortes began his conquest of Mexico. But by this time Guerrero had become famous as a Mayan warrior for the Lord of Chactemal, Nachan Can, and battled the invading Spaniards.
Woodson continues to translate the journal which tells of Guerrero’s epic adventure that is to lead to a lost city where he hides a codex—a Mayan book that unlocks many mysteries concerning the history, culture and mythology of that ancient race. It is a possible lost fifth codex, adding to those that may be found in museums in Dresden, Paris, Madrid, and the Grolier Codex in Mexico. The translating is done on the run as Woodson, Pedro and Blue follow in Guerrero’s footsteps across the Yucatan—all the while dogged by thugs intent upon wresting the journal from the three adventurers. The hired hoodlums appear to be working for a shadowy master of disguise called Aguilar—the namesake and descendant of Guerrero’s shipmate and nemesis some 500 years earlier!
The trail winds through the Yucatan, from Tulum to Dzibilchaltun to Chichen Itza to Cozumel and finally back to the Sacred Cenote at Chichen Itza and a monumental struggle between Woody and Aguilar and God L, the master of Xibalba, the Mayan underworld where the dead dwell.
Mr. Bresloff has created a most enchanting world for young readers. He deftly weaves historical fact and geographical reality within the context of high adventure, and mixing in a good dollop of mysticism and fantasy. His protagonists are interesting as individuals, showing a depth of character as they struggle with ethical dilemmas, especially since all the major characters, including Woodson, Pedro and Blue are guilty of violating Mexico’s antiquities laws.
The book is not without its shortcomings—one wishes for a bit more description of the rich splendor of sites such as Tulum and Chichen Itza—and even the wonderfully evocative Mayaland Hotel. And because many, in not most, of the Mayan names and terms will likely be literally foreign to young readers, it might be helpful to include phonetic spellings for the likes of “Dzibilchaltun,” “cenote,” “Xibalba,” etc. But these are small criticisms of an otherwise well-written, imaginative adventure for young readers.
Three trowels for The Fifth Codex and I am waiting for Volume 2, Site Q: The Lost City with great anticipation.