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Serpents of Arakesh, VM Jones

April 6, 2011

Serpents of Arakesh, Book Blurb

Serpents of Arakesh - VM Jones

Adam Equinox takes no pride in any aspect of his school work.  He has poor social skills and is a negative influence on his peers.  He is disruptive in class, ill-disciplined, and lacking in consideration and a fundamental sense of responsibility.  Adam needs to learn to apply himself, and to develop a sense of self-respect.

But a bad report is the least of Adam’s problems.  Abandoned on a doorstep twelve years ago, he has no idea who – or where – his parents are, no friends, nothing he’s good at, and nowhere he really belongs.

When Adam stumbles across the entry form for a competition, his luck starts to change.  It’s a prize he’d give anything to win – the chance to work with software genius Quentin Quested, test-driving a top-secret breakthrough in computer-game technology.

Adam enters a world he never dreamed existed.  And when Quentin Quested reveals why Adam and his four companions are really there, the boundaries between fantasy and reality begin to break down.

Together, they embark on a perilous quest to the parallel world of Karazan, where the Serpents of Arakesh stand guard over the most precious prize of all…

V.M. Jones lives in Christchurch with her husband and two sons.  Her previous novels are Buddy, which won the Junior Fiction and Best First Book Awards in the 2003 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards and Juggling with Mandarins (2003).  The Serpents of Arakesh is the first book in The Karazan Quartet.

‘Original and Compelling, V.M. Jones writes with power and clarity…” Margaret Mahy”

from the back cover of V.M. Jones (2003) The Serpents of Arakesh; Book One The Karazan Quartet. HarperCollins Publishers: Auckland

Serpents of ArakeshFirst Page


Appearances – like many things – can be deceptive.

Serpents of Arakesh - VM Jones

They looked like a tramp, a bodybuilder, a bank manager and a businesswoman, sitting at a long polished table.  There was a whiteboard at one end, and crystal tumblers of iced water and a small bowl of peppermints at each place.  Laptop computers chattered over the quieter hum of air conditioning.

Of the four, Veronica Usherwood looked most at home.  An ostrich-skin briefcase was stowed tidily beside her chair.  Her hair was immaculately cut, as smooth and glossy as starling feathers.  Her flawless skin was enhanced by the merest suggestion of dusky blusher on high cheekbones, and dark lashes framed her cool, pale eyes.  She wore an elegantly tailored suit and gave the impression of being composed, elegant and completely in control… if perhaps a little aloof.

Quentin Quested looked like a tramp who’d wandered into the room by mistake.  His baggy corduroy trousers….”

p5 V.M. Jones (2003) The Serpents of Arakesh; Book One The Karazan Quartet. HarperCollins Publishers: Auckland

Themes in the novel


To be cont…

Possible directions for study/questions to apply to Serpents of Arakesh

The magic parchment

How to write

I like VM Jones’ writing style.  In terms of the HOW of writing, the book is worth reading critically with younger writers:

Jones is playful about how she introduces her characters. She avoids plain descriptive paragraphs that sit outside the progress of the novel.  Descriptions are worked into the story by making them immediately relevant to events instead.  Jones uses different types of text to communicate the information (autobiography, newspaper clipping, report card…).  She introduces the protagonist, Adam Equinox, by placing him in class writing an autobiography.  Adam’s character comes out in this activity (imaginative, unfocused in class, struggling with writing, unsure of the details of his birth, shaggy hair, etc.), as does that of his teacher’s.  When Adam receives a poor mark for this same piece of schoolwork, the reader gets more information about how Adam relates to his teacher; we also see how he copes with difficulty (especially his own difficulties at school).  The poor school report works in the same way, also providing the matron with an excuse to lock Adam up, which sets things up for the action to unfold. One event flows readily into the next, without the need to step aside from the narrative and explain the character’s personality or revise the plot’s logic…

It is easy to read. Why?

Some of the metaphors and similes Jones uses are nicely imaginative without being overbearing, eg. “Withers leaned across the table, putting the tips of his fingers together to form a bony tent.”[1] Or: “Matron is hard and stiff and cold.  She has short frizzy hair like steel wool, and a face like a trap.  Everything about her is bony and seems to push you away.  Even when I was little and she used to pick me up, her fingers kind of poked and pinched and hurt.  Now I’m bigger, she does the poking and pinching and hurting with her mind.”[2] Assigning a person with these qualities (hard, stiff, cold, steel wool, trap, etc.) does not imply kindness, warmth or positivity on her part.  It is a lovely evocative description, but is the matron assigned any positive qualities in this book? Can a person be exclusively mean?

It is perhaps worth asking, ‘What is described fully? Why? Compare these aspects of the text to what is not described fully. (eg., the bus trip and the bus station (p52) are described quite fully; what effect does this have on our expectations as readers – or on our engagement with the protagonist and his quest to outsmart the matron and win his prize? In contrast, Adam’s classroom is not really described, although a lot of action does take place within it.  As a setting, the classroom seems to provide a way of showing the community around Adam, without being of interest in itself – why is that?) (Perhaps a better example: the curator’s treatment of poor people is described quite fully and evocatively (pp184-188).  Immediately afterwards, though, Adam notes that “any scruples I’d once had about stealing the potion” had gone along with the hope that the curator might just give them some healing potion for Hannah).  Does this description, then, work to support a certain moralistic take on events for the reader as much as the protagonist?  What if this section were omitted? What else does it add to the tale?

The first clue

Cultural Studies

The novel is marketed to a younger age group (5-9yrs / 9-12yrs), which will certainly push it down the list of texts receiving academic attention.  However, critically, the text does bear consideration in terms of the cultural ideas it portrays about:

–     family

–     support networks for adolescents/ community

–     fate/chance

–     representation.

  • The first line of the novel is “Appearances – like many things – can be deceptive.”[3] With this line, the novel opens on a prologue that describes a marketing meeting.  Each of the people in the meeting is described very much in terms of ‘appearance’: “They looked like….”[4] “She… gave the impression of…”[5] “If you were asked to pick which of the four in the room was one of the wealthiest people in the world, he’d probably be your last choice.” [6] …etc.  How does such language invite the reader to approach the text they are now entering?  Is this a comment that exposes some basic principle behind the text?
  • Who can define you? Who tells stories about you that you adopt for yourself? Where do you find these stories? How old do you have to be to question them?
  • the last clue

    In fact, There is repeated use of mediated (vs ‘unmediated’) interpretations of people and things (a marked autobiography, a school report, a newspaper article, first-person narrative, third-person narrative, etc.). There is also a theme of mediated vs unmediated understandings of reality (if such a thing as an unmediated understanding of reality is possible).  The computer game introduces a number of ideas about alternate realities.

  • The author of the review blog, On the Nightstand, found the first-person narrative difficult, because Adam is “a twelve year old boy who is very poorly literate. He is a very bright boy, as evidenced by his actions and leadership abilities, just not very good at things like reading and writing.” She elaborates: “Even disregarding his level of literacy, Adam just sounds a little too mature in his narrative voice than would be expected of a boy his age. Sometimes he would sound quite appropriate, and then he would use a word or a phrase that would throw me right out of the spell..”  Personally, I didn’t find this aspect troublesome in the same way; I believe I was comfortable with the early mention of Adam’s strong vocabulary (but poor spelling) (p46) as an explanation; this excused it as an oral narrative for me.  However, this comment did make me wonder; … the prologue is written in the third person and deals largely with concepts of representation (marketing, appearances, promotional strategies etc.). … We then enter the main body of the story, which is in the first person with Adam Equinox as the narrator.  Why do this? What effect does this have on our engagement with the protagonist? The story seems to be dealing with ideas of image, so does having a first-person narrative improve the feeling that this protagonist is pro-active and capable of healthy self-direction in his life? What about self-image?
  • I am particularly interested in the ideas about family and communal support systems that underlie this text.
  • Adam is an ‘orphan.’ Of course there is something of an established

    The second clue

    tradition in orphan-literature for younger readers, but why tell a story about a child who has no family (In Adam’s case, they left him on the steps of a children’s home in a shoe box)?  This is clearly not about appealing to a number of readers’ experiences, so what is added to the plot – or to Adam’s character –  by making him an orphan?  What is being said about family? What is being said about the individual?

    Is the idea that ‘with family’, these problems wouldn’t arise? ie that family should provide this support?  What about books like The 10pm Question or other books with dysfunctional families…?  Are they written for the same agegroup? What does this reveal about how we see these age groups in terms of ‘psychological’ ‘maturity’?

    Check also other blogs written on The Karazan Quartet

To be cont…

[1] P8 V.M. Jones (2003) The Serpents of Arakesh; Book One The Karazan Quartet. HarperCollins Publishers: Auckland

[2] p15 V.M. Jones (2003) The Serpents of Arakesh; Book One The Karazan Quartet. HarperCollins Publishers: Auckland

[3] p5 V.M. Jones (2003) The Serpents of Arakesh; Book One The Karazan Quartet. HarperCollins Publishers: Auckland

[4] p5 V.M. Jones (2003) The Serpents of Arakesh; Book One The Karazan Quartet. HarperCollins Publishers: Auckland

[5] p5 V.M. Jones (2003) The Serpents of Arakesh; Book One The Karazan Quartet. HarperCollins Publishers: Auckland

[6] p6 V.M. Jones (2003) The Serpents of Arakesh; Book One The Karazan Quartet. HarperCollins Publishers: Auckland

the third clue

Texts that invite comparison


How to use this blog

Mindmaps help me think critically.  They help me see the links between things and plot a course through all the observations and questions that a text provokes when I read it ‘as a text.’  This blog is a mindmap of sorts; full of random thoughts and relevant-seeming quotations or ideas.

  • There is a tag cloud to the right of the blog, which shows the topics I am exploring as ‘tags.’
  • You can also use the search bar at the bottom of the page to see if a particular word/book/author/theme is mentioned.
  • Each time I bring an author into the discussion for the first time, I add an “Introducing the author” blog. This is easily found at the beginning of the section under that author.
  • I have a section titled ‘Blog Notes’ in which I explain my blogging style.
  • I have a ‘Literary Resources’ section which includes general ideas on literature and its study as well as the questions I apply to any text I study.
  • These questions (eg. Character Questions) may be useful to any other reader wishing to look at this text differently (refer to very early on in the blogging history of this section).
  • I absolutely welcome discussion: comments, suggestions, ideas, criticisms… please add them!

Jones’ Serpents of Arakesh: a History

the fourth clue

Awards won:

None as yet, though it was a finalist in the 2004 New Zealand Post fiction awards.

Publishing History:

First published in 2003 by Harper Collins, this is the first of four in The Karazan Quartet.  The others, in order, are:

Beyond the Shroud (2004); Prince of the Wind (2004); Quest for the Sun (2005)

Bibliography of secondary literature:

  • Serpents of Arakesh Teachers’ Resource Kit by Harper Collins (freely available download)
  • Serpents of Arakesh Teachers’ Notes (no great difference to the above) by Harper Collins (freely available download)
  • Penguin have an online interactive resource, but I still have to check it out…
  • There are also a number of interviews and reviews around the place, but little academic research has been applied to Jones’s work as yet (5 April 2011).
  • Check out the review in the book review blog, On the Nightstand, which is worth a browse on its own merits.

    the fifth clue

Author information:

Refer earlier blog: Introducing VM Jones

VM Jones

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