Monkeyboy, by S. Shane Thomas - 4 Stars
Monkeyboy is set within the League of Atlantis Reborn Colonies (LARC), the narrative universe that Shane built. I read this book because I’d previously read The LARC Transmissions, which I thought was very imaginative and worthwhile. That prior title also introduced the character of Hanuman, a minor character who shows heroic tendencies at the end and who then takes the lead role in this follow-on story. I sense that if you hadn’t read any of the previous stories, you might find it harder to buy into the fantasy of this latest book and wonder what the talking monkey is all about.
In explanation, Hanuman (previously) ate a magic stone which gave him anthropomorphic characteristics, improved intelligence and vocal cords. He carried over his natural primate characteristics of loyalty, bravery and family. In this book, the baddies (Rakshsha) on the planet of Nibiru want to capture all of the magic stones and over-run their world with enhanced warriors, as a prelude to restoring the ancient and very alien Anki Empire. Hanuman and his friends set out to stop all that, but betrayal is right around the corner.
This book talks about the Solar System, but I think that's a micro-error as it should only ever refer to the system around the star Sol, our sun. Someone else's system would be named after their local star, e.g. the Dagobah System in Star Wars or the Vogsphere in Hitchhiker's. If the author was talking about the planets around our sun, then that's my lack of attention and ignore me.
It’s easy to get confused and think this is a re-write of Hanuman’s tale in the Ramayana and Mahabharata, where the devoted monkey god trails along behind Rama and helps a young priest bring Budhism to India. Indeed, the money god Hanuman is part of not just Buddhist but also Hindu, Sikh and Jain mythology. Despite keeping an eye out for references to those famous quests, I didn’t see any beyond his similar character traits and the fact they’re both simple souls magically elevated from monkeyhood to do good deeds – and prove useful. Please don’t expect religious wisdom. This seems then to be a transplant of that ancient character into an unrelated setting to try him out in a completely new tale. When Salman Rushdie tried this, they gave him a Fatwah, but this is just a harmless take that shouldn’t upset any believers. In reality, the monkey god existed in scripture for about one thousand years before anyone added him to the pantheon that anyone actually worships. He was a character but not a headline deity. He also stole fruit.
The LARC universe seems to have changed in style from imaginative science fiction engineering and biology fantasy (with a bit of magical transformation) in The LARC Transmissions to a magical young adult fantasy in this latest story. Originally full of colonial theory and exploring strange new worlds there’s been a shift into a status-quo disrupted by conflict. Is this change over time or had the author exhausted the sci-fi angle? I prefer sci-fi, personally, but I acknowledge that I’m outnumbered by YA magic readers (about 1/100), so I should shut up. I’ll give this the same star rating as the previous book but I disagree that it is stand-alone. Specifically, Monkeyboy is a barely a 4 star and Transmissions is a high 4 star. Then again, kids will love it, eat more fruit and fall out of trees.