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What’s not to love about a YA adventure story that features intrepid rangers attempting to foil the evil, wildlife-unfriendly schemes of a tattoed mastermind who combines poaching with a career in international business? Ranger in Danger: King Cobra’s Curse (The Five Mile Press, 2010), by Sean Willmore and Alison Reynolds, takes the reader—ideally one who’s 10 or 12 years old—to India, where a ranger named Paresh Porob, based on a real-life ranger of the same name, Needs Your Help to defeat said poacher and protect the local fauna.
The reader gets to step into the role of a ranger who receives an emailed plea for aid from Paresh. That sets in motion any number of plot twists and turns, depending on which way you, the reader-ranger, think the story line ought to unfold. (The “Ranger in Danger” series’s tag line is “Decide Your Destiny.”) Wildlife abounds—or rather it bounds and slithers and pounces—through the book. Mongeese, cobras, leopards and snow leopards, macaques and a venomous little slitherer called a krait make cameos. The villains, however, are strictly hominid and are intent on making a killing by making a killing (of leopards, humans, you name it).
I’ve never read a pick-your-own-plot book before. (It surprises me a little that I haven’t.) It felt more like playing a game—Should I shoot the leopard with the tranquilizer dart now or should I wait?—than like reading a story, although as promised there is plenty of adventure and danger on almost every page. I found myself going back repeatedly to previous plot junctions to find out what would have happened if I’d taken this turning instead of that one. Some decisions go badly wrong and leave you on the wrong end of a poacher’s gun or a venomous snake’s fangs. It’s an entertaining, somewhat vertigo-inducing experience, as you whipsaw back and forth among pages and plotlines. I can see the appeal for a young reader who imagines him- or herself in all these adventurous scenarios.
The story line and the prose don’t get points for subtlety, but narrative nuance is not the point here. King Cobra’s Curse is all about danger and drama, mixed with some nifty wildlife facts and good moral messages about environmental stewardship. Here’s a typical passage:
You recognize the steely blue hexagonal scales, and the white bands around the body of the snake. A common krait, one of the most venomous snakes in the world. Even though you feel no pain, you know that this is usual with krait bites. Soon you’ll be fighting for your life.
King Cobra’s Curse is the third installment in the “Ranger in Danger” series published by indie Australian outfit The Five Mile Press. Alison Reynolds, an Australian, writes the series, according to the back cover of the book; co-author Sean Wilmore, another real-life ranger, is an environmental activist who founded the Thin Green Line Foundation, which supports wildlife rangers around the world. His adventures inspired the series, according to the publisher.
King Cobra’s Curse is printed on paper “manufactured from 100% recycled materials,” according to the publisher, and the paper stock handles well. (I never thought I’d be writing that in a review.) It’s good and thick and bright and makes for a perfectly enjoyable reading experience. I wish the typeface looked a little less like something run off on a home printer, and the art and binding are pretty bare bones, but overall it’s a pleasant book to handle, and, from a reader’s perspective anyway, the paper stock would do fine in most trade or academic books.