The Scorpions of Zahir

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Zagora Pym has always wanted to be a desert explorer. Her father, Charlie Pym, is exactly that, and she's always loved to look over his maps of far away exotic places. One day she'd be trekking through the deserts of Africa and China, discovering hidden treasures from lost tribes. But Zagora would never have guessed that her chance to prove herself would come so soon. Like most adventures, it starts with a mysterious letter. The question is, how will this adventure end?


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The Scorpions of Zahir

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Zagora Pym has always wanted to be a desert explorer. Her father, Charlie Pym, is exactly that, and she's always loved to look over his maps of far away exotic places. One day she'd be trekking through the deserts of Africa and China, discovering hidden treasures from lost tribes. But Zagora would never have guessed that her chance to prove herself would come so soon. Like most adventures, it starts with a mysterious letter. The question is, how will this adventure end?

Zagora's dreams of desert exploration are about to come ture, but are she and her father and brother being followed? And will they ever make it back to civilization?

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Heather Robertson Mason
Zagora Pym is obsessed with the desert. No surprise since her father is a renowned desert explorer. When he receives a mysterious letter saying his old friend Pitblade Yegen, long thought to be lost and dead, is alive and needs help, Zagora, her father, and her brother Duncan head off to Morocco in search of the lost city of Zahir and the Pyramid of Zuloc. Adding to the adventure are Pitblade's mercenary sister trying to kill them, a young woman from a lost tribe stalking them, massive scorpions that seem to be able to think, and the sudden appearance of a planet that may or may not strike Earth. The setting of this book is the best thing about it. The majority of the action takes place in Morocco and the Sahara desert, locales and customs rarely seen in young adult literature. With its many mystical elements, this book retains a magical quality. However, parts of the book seem too unrealistic, even for a book dependent on ancient myths. A planet not noticed before is suddenly so close to Earth it might hit, but no one knew about it ahead of time nor seems particularly worried about it now. Also, no satisfactory reason is given for why Zagora's father, who has faced the dangers of the desert many times, would bring his two teenaged, and completely inexperienced children, with him. Readers looking for a new type of adventure novel will like this book. Sophisticated readers will pass it by for something more thought out. Reviewer: Heather Robertson Mason
VOYA - Sean Rapacki
This is truly a ripping yarn, filled with adventure like the desert is with grains of sand. Eleven-year-old Zagora Pym journeys to Morocco with her older brother and archeologist father on a rescue mission tied to an old desert curse. The age of the protagonist suggests that this should be juvenile fiction, and there are indeed times when it recalls classic adventure tales with youth appeal, such as Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. There are, however, story elements that might be a bit too frightening for a juvenile audience, such as vicious mutated hyenas and evil scorpions the size of automobiles. In fact, one of the protagonist's young friends, a Moroccan girl named Mina, is forced to kill one of the hyenas by smashing it with a large brass urn in order to save Zagora's life. Some children might find this bloodshed disturbing, as they would scenes in which the giant scorpions grab some of the villains and drag them to their doom. Many others, if my experience with young readers is any guide, will relish the gore and terror, considering it a reward for plowing through a tome thick with culture and setting. The book is well written, however, and none of the culture or setting seems nonessential to the story. Brodien-Jones manages to skillfully weave these elements to support the supernatural and action elements of the story. All this book needs is an equally skillful librarian to shepherd it to the right readers. Reviewer: Sean Rapacki
Kirkus Reviews
Combine a complicated and not entirely explained premise involving the link between a mysterious planet and a half-buried desert city, giant scorpions with the power to communicate, and an eccentric cast of characters, and you've got a wild ride indeed. Long ago, the Azimuth people thrived in the beautiful city of Zahir, which was protected by a pyramid that absorbed energy from a planet called Nar Azrak. When a stone was removed from the apex of the pyramid, deadly scorpions invaded the city, and Nar Azrak began to veer off course in a path that would ultimately result in a collision with Earth. Fast forward to present day, and readers find 11-year-old Zagora, her brother, Duncan, and their father, archaeologist Dr. Charles Pym, venturing into the Moroccan desert to rescue Dr. Pym's long-lost partner and to save Zahir and what remains of the Azimuth people. Although the focus is on the fast-paced, suspenseful plot, some welcome character development is also present. Zagora's confidence grows, and she and her brother Duncan bond in a way that didn't seem possible in their previous, ordinary lives. Loose ends and a fuzzy mythology are flaws that will likely be overlooked by readers who enjoy immersing themselves in adventures featuring creepiness of both the historical and otherworldly varieties. (Fantasy. 9-13)
From the Publisher
Review, Booklist, August, 2012:
Brodien-Jones mixes fantasy and adventure in a way that would make Indiana Jones feel right at home. Plucky Zagora, her absentminded father, and her often lazy brother are all changed by their journey, each finding out something unexpected about one another, the people they meet, and themselves.

Review, Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 2012:
Combine a… premise involving the link between a mysterious planet and a half-buried desert city, giant scorpions with the power to communicate, and an eccentric cast of characters, and you’ve got a wild ride indeed. [For] readers who enjoy immersing themselves in adventures featuring creepiness of both the historical and otherworldly varieties.

School Library Journal
Gr 4–6—Eleven-year-old Zagora Pym is the feisty heroine of this colorful, fast-paced adventure set in Morocco. She and her brother, Duncan, accompany their archaeologist father out into the desert to reconnect with Pitblade Yegen, Dr. Pym's partner who was thought to have died in an expedition 11 years earlier. Plans change when Dr. Pym is kidnapped and the siblings set off to save him, along with Mina, a young Azimuth, and Razziq, their desert guide. At the heart of the story lies the mysterious "Oryx Stone," which is said to be made of meteorite pieces of the planet Nar Azrak. Zagora learns that she is in fact a sentinel of the stone, and ancient glyphs reveal that the children comprise the Circle of Four who will in fact save the Ancient City of Zahir if they can return the stone to the Pyramid of Xuloc before the lunar eclipse. Throughout this journey, they encounter human enemies, venomous snakes, hyenas, and mutant scorpions that have taken over the city of Zahir since the disappearance of the Oryx Stone. Brodien-Jones does a beautiful job of weaving an engaging story of intrigue, myth, and adventure. Her characters seem to jump off the pages and stay with readers long after the story ends, as their transformative journey becomes ours. The crosshatched sketches perfectly capture the ambiance and setting of this exotic thriller. A must-have read.—Mary Beth Rassulo, Ridgefield Library, CT
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385739337
  • Publisher: Random House Children's Books
  • Publication date: 7/10/2012
  • Pages: 384
  • Age range: 10 years
  • Product dimensions: 5.82 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.22 (d)

Meet the Author

CHRIS BRODIEN-JONES studied writing at Emerson College, Boston, and has been a journalist, editor and teacher. She now splits her time between Gloucester, Massachusets, and Deer Isle, Maine. Look for her other book for young readers, The Owl Keeper, available form Delacorte Press.

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Read an Excerpt


Zagora Pym sat with a beat‑up leather-bound book open on her lap, dreaming about Zahir. She’d found the book the day before when her father was lecturing at the university and she was snooping around his study. It was at the bottom of his desk, in a drawer crammed with pencils, graphs and navigational charts. On the first page were spidery letters that read Excavating Zahir: The Journal of Edgar Q. Yegen, Intrepid Explorer.

She perched on the edge of her bed, slowly turning the pages, which threatened to fall apart at the slightest touch. Zagora was eleven and a bit rough around the edges, with perpetually scraped elbows, a face with sharp angles and a gap between her teeth, and she wore the gaze of a constant dreamer. She knew that while she might not be a ravishing bandit princess or a girl genius with an off-the-charts IQ, she had adventure in her heart, and to her that’s what mattered most.

Most of the journal’s pages looked chewed up—she guessed by desert beetles—and many were damaged or missing. But that didn’t stop Zagora from reading the pages that were left. And although the ink had faded, she could see that the paragraphs had been composed by a precise and scholarly hand, in the language of a particular time.

The book started off with the paragraph:

I begin this journal on a blustery March day in Boston, Massachusetts, sitting in my study overlooking Marlborough Street, in the year 1937. In two months’ time a freighter will leave Boston Harbor for the port of Tangier, Morocco—and I will be on it. This expedition will be the culmination of ten years of exhaustive research, which began the moment I discovered the infamous Oryx Stone.

Zagora had never read anything so thrilling in her life. Her archaeologist father often talked about his adventures in Zahir, including his role in the failed expedition to excavate the buried city. But the entries in this book went all the way back to 1937!

In Edgar Yegen’s journal there were accounts of moonless black nights in the desert, open-air markets and the bleak Atlas Mountains. She studied his sketches of mud-walled houses, patterned archways, an underground tomb. It was easy to imagine the sun, the insects, the heat and dust of the Sahara. She read about the road to Zahir, with its stone columns, snaking through yellow sands. What excited her most, though, were the entries about a mysterious object called the Oryx Stone.

She stopped flipping the pages of the book right where Edgar Yegen first described the strange stone, and read the entry again.

While roaming the casbah in search of a comfortable pair of slippers, I happened upon a makeshift stall containing the kinds of trinkets one encounters in these bustling markets. Tipping my hat to the proprietor, I was about to walk away when a flash of blue caught my eye. Amid the tangle of evil-eye charms, worry beads and ankle bracelets was the most extraordinary necklace I had ever seen: strung on a ribbon of leather was a blue stone the size of a robin’s egg with the tiny figure of an oryx—an animal considered sacred by the ancient tribe of the Azimuth—etched into the center. I held the stone in my hand and my blood quickened. I intuited that this was indeed a long-lost treasure: the infamous Oryx Stone, stolen centuries ago from the legendary city of Zahir.

The description of the Oryx Stone matched that of an object she’d found in her attic years earlier. While searching for an explorer’s headlamp to wear in the cellar on a newt-catching expedition, she had opened a steamer trunk and discovered, under a stack of archaeology magazines, a tattered drawstring pouch.

Tucked inside the pouch was a luminous stone the same ice blue as her eyes. Similar to a small egg in shape and size, the stone was polished smooth and threaded on a worn leather string. If she turned the stone a certain way in the light, she could see the image of an oryx, her favorite desert animal, which had been cut into the surface of the stone.

Ever since that day, late at night, when her dad and brother were asleep, she would creep up to the attic and pull out the stone, mesmerized by its ethereal light. She’d spent hours up there, exploring foreign lands, inventing stories of far-off places, dangerous bandits, magical oryxes and lost desert opals. Riding imaginary camels, she made journeys in her goggles, pith helmet and crocodile boots, which came to a frightening point at the toe.  And always, always, she wore the glowing blue stone.

There was a knock at the front door and Zagora guiltily closed the journal, tucking it under her bed. She planned to return it to her father’s desk before he discovered it was missing, though it was likely he’d forgotten he even had it. Her dad was absentminded that way.

Bounding downstairs and out to the front porch, she found a huge envelope stuffed in their mailbox. Her father was always getting weird-sized parcels sent from all over the world. This envelope had a weary look, as if it had been traveling for years and years, space-warping to their house from another century.

“Dad, package!” she shouted, bursting into her father’s study, where he sat playing Desert Biome Madness on his computer.

Charles W. Pym, PhD, DSc, a tall, introspective, first-class archaeologist (in Zagora’s opinion) and translator of rare glyphs, was now in the later stages of his career. Zagora bragged to her friends that her father tracked down snow leopards in the Gobi, dynamited a buried fortress in Mali and almost died of thirst while measuring wind patterns in Egypt. His career had been a series of worst-case scenarios, she explained, using his phrase. She didn’t know the specifics, but she liked the way the words sounded.

Dr. Pym spun around in his ergonomic bungee chair and Zagora ceremoniously handed him the envelope. It was stamped with the words Royaume du Maroc, which she knew meant “Kingdom of Morocco.” The hand-writing was messy and the stamps were desert themed, with whimsical pictures of lizards, camels, hyenas and insects that she was dying to collect.

“Can I keep the stamps?” she asked eagerly. “They’re really cool.” Ever since she was seven, when her dad had brought home a book called Flora and Fauna of the Sahara, she’d immersed herself in facts about deserts of the world.

Her father held up the brown envelope tied with string. “What’s this, eh?” He squinted at the return address. “Who could be sending me a package from Morocco?”

“Maybe they want you to set up a desert expedition,” suggested Zagora. It was always an event when her dad landed a job, especially in some exotic location.

She watched his face carefully as he scrutinized the old-fashioned script through his drugstore reading glasses, the lines around his eyes deepening.

“Good grief.” He gave a puzzled frown as he tore open the envelope. “Hmmm. I don’t recognize the sender’s address—”

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2012

    Luv it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Awsom!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!-----------Addie s.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 3, 2013


    Great book!!!! :)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 4, 2013


    Pretty good :)

    - Anna D.

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