Three children encounter kidnappers, a mysterious carpet and a thieves' market in Haven's (Two Hot Dogs with Everything) entertaining but slight novel. Oliver's father, a newspaper reporter, has moved his family to the tiny Middle Eastern nation of Balabad. Oliver, 12, and his best (and only) friend, Zee, relieve their boredom by visiting a carpet seller, Mr. Haji, who entertains them with stories of Balabad's history. When a series of unusual crimes that begins with the theft of the 500-year-old Sacred Carpet of Agamon culminates in the disappearance of Haji, Oliver and Zee, with the help of a girl named Alamai, set off to find their friend and discover the secrets of Balabad. The brief adventure is exciting but ends too quickly, and with too few opportunities for the protagonists to put their intelligence to use. There's much to like, including smart, realistic characters, a fascinating back story and solid action sequences, but the strong writing doesn't compensate for the structural problems. Illustrations not seen by PW.Ages 8-12. (Jan.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Seven Keys of Balabadby Paul Haven
Each day runs into the next for Oliver until a 500-year-old
Welcome to Balabad, birthplace of the international secret society known as the Brotherhood of Arachosia. And rumored hiding place of the grandest riches the world has ever known. Balabad is also the country Oliver Finch calls home ever since his father was reassigned to this dull, war-torn dust bowl.
Each day runs into the next for Oliver until a 500-year-old sacred carpet is stolen. Then one of the few friends he has disappears. Oliver is determined to figure out what exactly is going on. But in order to do that he’ll have consult with a one-eyed warrior, track down the far-flung members of the Brotherhood, and unlock a centuries-old secret! Suddenly, life in Balabad for Oliver has become a whole lot more interesting . . . and dangerous.
From the Hardcover edition.
Marilyn Courtot <%ISBN%>037583348X
Read an Excerpt
The Seven Keys
Bahauddin Shah stumbled through the darkened passageway, gripping the cold stone wall for balance and keeping his head low to avoid the rocky ceiling. The sound of his footsteps echoed back at him through the gloom, and his heart thumped beneath his loose-fitting shirt.
The old man wore a heavy iron key chain around his belt, and it weighed down on him in more ways than one.
There was so little time!
Bahauddin held a small lantern in his right hand that threw his shadow onto the dark red wall above him, making his face seem impossibly long and his beard even thicker than it really was, which was pretty thick indeed. The shadow would have scared the living daylights out of anyone who'd seen it, except there was no daylight down there, and certainly nobody living to be scared of it.
The tunnel twisted and turned. Every once in a while smaller passageways veered off at odd angles into the darkness. Sometimes Bahauddin came out into vast open rooms that rose up into shapeless voids. There were even enormous darkened ponds, wretched and foul-smelling, like the stink of rotten eggs.
Bahauddin covered his nose with a piece of old cloth and tried to stay focused. A man could easily get lost in the Salt Caverns.
In fact, that was the whole idea.
But Bahauddin would not get lost. He knew every corner of this underground world, and his old body pulled him toward the exit like a falcon returning to his master's arm.
Bahauddin had just turned into a wet, narrow passage and was examining some black markings on the wall when the thud of cannon fire above him jolted him to the ground. Debris rained down from the ceiling as he knelt on the floor, catching his breath.
His hand groped for the key chain, and he smiled when his fingers felt the cold iron.
They were all there. All seven of them.
The blast that had knocked Bahauddin to the ground could not have been more than twenty feet above him. He was nearly at the surface.
For the first time, Bahauddin allowed himself to think what he would find up there, twelve hours after he had set off on the most important mission of his life. What would be left of his city, his family, the palace?
"It does not matter," the old man reassured himself, brushing his clothes off in the darkness. "Baladis are survivors. We will rebuild. It just might take some time."
The outsiders would eventually lose interest, just like all the other outsiders who had come before them, Bahauddin thought.
Balabad's great defense was that it was impossible to hold on to, and any rational outsider eventually came to the same conclusion. There were vast deserts in the south, impossibly tall mountain ranges in the east, endless plains in the west, and ten thousand feuding tribes in the north, all angry about some _long-_ago slight, and all willing to drag a foreigner into their squabbles.
Of course, it usually took a decade or so before the invaders would see that it was not worth sticking around, for invaders do not easily give up.
Bahauddin reached the end of the narrow passageway and held his lantern above his head. A small shaft ran straight up from the stone ceiling, about the size of a chimney and just big enough for a man to climb through. You would never have seen it had you not known where to look.
A deep smile creased Bahauddin's face. He clamped his teeth around the lantern's metal handle and jumped as high as he could. His fingers barely gripped a thick iron rung, the first in a series of handles hammered into the red and pink salt rock, so long ago they'd become a part of it.
Bahauddin grunted as he pulled himself up, his strong hands climbing the rungs one after another and his legs dangling below him. He could feel the warmth of the lantern through his beard and hoped it wouldn't catch fire.
This really was a job for a much younger man, Bahauddin thought, but he would have to do. In any case, a much younger man would not have known the secrets of the Salt Caverns. A much younger man most certainly could not have been trusted to take the king's most prized possession into the bowels of the earth, and then to seal the Royal Vault shut. A much younger man would have valued his life too much to return to the surface and to almost certain death.
There was more cannon and musket fire from above, and it was louder now, closer. Bahauddin gripped the cold rungs as hard as he could. He could hear the screams of townsfolk above him now, the fall of horses' hooves, and the angry shouts of soldiers. He took a deep breath and continued to climb.
Waiting somewhere in all that chaos were the king's seven sons, young men whose very lives depended on Bahauddin's success. Each clutched a _hand-_drawn map of the known world, and each had been assigned one of Agamon's seven fastest stallions. Bahauddin prayed he would not be too late.
At the top of the shaft was a large iron cover. Bahauddin released the lantern from his teeth and let it fall in a streak of suicidal light--one second, two seconds, three seconds--until it shattered against the passageway below.
No matter. He would not need it anymore.
The old man took one hand off the last rung and pushed up on the iron cover. It took all his might to ease it aside.
Bahauddin Shah, patriarch of the Shah clan, most trusted adviser to King Agamon the Great, and sacred keeper of the Seven Keys of Arachosia, clambered up into the daylight.
From the Hardcover edition.
Meet the Author
Born and raised in New York, Paul Haven always knew he wanted to write and travel, so after graduating from college he moved to South America and worked as a reporter. In 1994, he joined the Associated Press, working and living in Colombia, New York, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. He currently lives in Spain with his wife and daughter. This is his second novel.
From the Hardcover edition.
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We read this for Battle of the Books. Characters and plot were thin and not believable. The kids on our team found it lackluster.
Wonderful! This book was a revelation, by far the best thing I¿ve read with my son in the past year. It weaves the present day story of three unlikely friends _ a streetwise New Yorker named Oliver, an upper class wit called Zee and a hardscrabble and exotic beauty named Alamai _ with a mesmerizing 500-year-old mystery. The writing is rich and colorful, the characters unforgettable and the adventure so gripping we finished reading it in less than a week. Now my son is insisting we read it again. What a find! - Marion