In O’Neill’s (Wrath of the Caid, 2014, etc.) third volume of his YA Red Hand Adventures series, the Moroccan resistance prepares to battle a power-hungry warlord who’s allied himself with the French army.
Tough orphan Tariq has already helped Australian adventurer and hot air balloonist Melbourne Jack obtain the secret diary of Alexander the Great. Now Jack wants to return the favor and help Tariq and his friends plan their final showdown with the evil Caid Ali Tamzali, a warlord who won’t stop until he’s become the sultan of Morocco. The Caid has made a deal with the French Foreign Legion in order to take advantage of its superior numbers and weaponry. Jack tells Tariq the legend of the Red Hand Scrolls—powerful revelations that have only been secretly shared with a few trusted scholars. Deep in the jungle of Ceylon, someone evil is using the scrolls to plant seeds of conflict, which will grow into the biggest battle that the world has ever seen. Meanwhile, English preteen Margaret has discovered that her father, Col. Charles Owen, is being held in Marseilles as an accused pirate, and back in London, her mother, Louise, is risking everything to clear his name. O’Neill takes his usual mixture of high-stakes action, intricate historical detail and complex character back story and cranks it up an extra notch. But although the previous two books merely verged on overwhelming, this one definitely feels bloated. By the time the book relates the life stories of the mysterious Foster Crowe, who runs the circus that raised Jack; and Inez, Margaret’s French schoolmate, readers may be tired of meeting new people and ready to get on with the story. The long-awaited showdown between the resistance and the Caid’s forces manages to live up to lofty expectations. However, instead of ending on that note, O’Neill begins new storylines related to pre–World War I unrest. This feels somewhat anticlimactic after the big battle, but it may lead to an exciting, educational next book in the series.
Another entertaining action-adventure installment, albeit one with a few too many plot strands.