The first in the planned Artifact Inspector series offers readers an African folk tale set in contemporary London with a Chinese-English protagonist suffering from dyspraxia.
It is multiculturalism in the extreme. Unfortunately, while it has diversity in spades, the story itself is difficult to follow, and the third-person narrative fails to muster readers’ rapt attention. Eleven-year-old Jin can hardly believe his eyes when a mysterious ball of mud rolls into a stream and hatches a fearsome monster. Things go from bad to worse when the creature drags Jin’s baby brother into her sewage-pipe lair. Fortunately, Jin is not alone in his quest to save his brother. When Mizz Z, chief inspector for the Risk Assessment Agency for Ancient Artifacts, shows up and discovers that Zilombo is free, she joins forces with Jin to save the baby and return the monster to the safety of her dried-up mudball. One of the novel’s greatest shortcomings is that the description of Zilombo is so complex. It’s next to impossible to imagine what this creature actually looks like, which pulls readers out of the story as they attempt to reconcile all of Zilombo’s mismatched parts. This combines with a glut of frustratingly two-dimensional characters for a rather ho-hum read.
Unfortunately, it’s a little like watching mud dry; here’s hoping future installments have more zip. (Adventure. 8-12)