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by Emily Rodda

Age Range: 10 - 12

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-06-029775-1
Publisher: Greenwillow

A second mysterious threat to his isolated village prompts the humble herd boy introduced in Rowan of Rin (not reviewed) to prove again that a weak body can hide a hero’s heart. When the villagers suddenly fall asleep among their newly planted Mountain berry bushes, Rowan chases after a passing group of Romany-like Travelers, hoping to persuade them to lift the supposed curse. Instead, he finds himself in the company of Zeel, a hated Zebak invader raised as a Traveler, attempting to enter the fabled Valley of Gold by passing through its only entrance, the ill-reputed Pit of Unrin. Though arguing and handwringing slow the pace, Rodda gives her characters unusually well developed back stories as well as strong, genuinely scary adversaries. Rowan learns the hard way that the sweetly soporific berries that the people of Rin have planted all around are the juvenile forms of a carnivorous tree with thrashing, tentacle-like roots; fortunately, he also discovers an effective defense in a rhymed riddle’s oblique references. The storytelling may be patchy (thanks to plenty of heavy hints, readers will have solved the riddle long before Rowan), but this Australian series shows signs of heading in promising directions. (Fiction. 10-12)