Wednesday, October 14, 2015

High Adventure: The Edge by Roland Smith

"How did you know I would say yes?" I asked.

"I did not know." Zopa answered.

"So you agreed to lead this climb on the off chance that I would say yes?"

Zopa nodded. "But I hoped you would say no. You should not have come. You should not have brought your mother."


"This is not going to be a good climb."

"How do you know?"

Zopa shrugged. "A feeling. I can smell a bad climb."

"You smelled it all the way from Kathmandu?" I laughed.

When Peak Marcello's mother readily agrees to do the "Peace Climb" in Afghanistan organized by a billionaire philanthropist, fifteen-year-old Peak, coming off an almost deadly Everest ascent and a wild skyscraper-scaling prank, has his doubts. But the lure of climbing and the offer of revolutionary climbing gear seals the deal for him. His mom, once nicknamed "The Fly," is a famous climber, and the presence of Zopa, the Sherpa monk who guided the Everest climb, reassures Peak and reinforces his urge to combine his passions for climbing and promoting world peace.

But the signs are not favorable when the hastily-assembled team meet together in Afghanistan. Rivalries surface almost immediately between the egotistical climbmaster Phillip and ex-Marine Ethan and between Peak and some of the young climbers over the attentions of Alessia, comely daughter of the French ambassador to Afghanistan. The lack of climbing experience among the videographers' team and some of the young volunteers seems to concern Zopa, but they begin to trek out across the scrum, small boulders that make even walking treacherous, toward their chosen cliff. Zopa, a Tibetan monk who "does not sleep, at least not in the way we do," sticks to his sober premonitions about this climb.

But the biggest threat is not the mountain itself, but a band of Afghani thugs who kill several in their party and seize Peak's mother, Alessia, Zopa, and some of the climbers as bait for their ransom scheme. Peak has no option but to ally himself with Ethan, whose many talents in more than mountaineering turn out to be critical in tracking down the murderous gang across the rugged landscape. The trek itself is almost fatal to the two, and Peak can't help but notice that they seem to be shadowed by a shen, a snow leopard, as they find shallow graves with the bodies of some of their group behind the kidnappers. With his mom's fate in the hands of the killers, Peak knows there is no other choice but to follow their trail and hope to overcome them.

Everything is in line for a literal cliffhanger of a conclusion, and Roland Smith's forthcoming The Edge (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015), does not disappoint, with an ending that, believe it or not, involves the talismanic shen and a parasail.

Dedicated fans of all-out thriller novels will find this one a worthy sequel to Smith's first book, eponymously titled Peak, in which the intrepid Peak and his Buddhist guru are introduced. Author Smith has some difficulty working the necessary details of extreme mountain climbing into the narration, making for slow some passages that may entice thrill-seeking readers to skip to the chase, but rock-climbing devotees will likely relish the every bit of the technical minutiae. With the iconic shen as both a spiritual symbol and an active character in the concluding pages, the ending is anything but predictable. The likelihood of a future "edgy" Peak sequel, however, is not.

"Extreme sports meets ruthless killers in a survival-of-the-fittest chase," says School Library Journal.

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