Lance Lee’s Orpheus Rising is a suspenseful fantasy that is based on the Greek myth about Orpheus losing his wife Euridice to a snake bite and his attempt to rescue her from Hades. In Mr. Lee’s modern story, Sam and his father John live alone, study for school, and do chores day after day. At night, they keep having strange dreams neither one understands. They also have a quirky newspaper delivery man who taunts them about having no mother in the house. Sam wonders what happened to her, but he doesn’t want to ask questions that will hurt his father. One day the newspaperman gives them a fancy book with blank pages in it. Sam quickly realizes whatever he draws in it comes to life, and written stories about each one even magically appear. His father insists this is not possible, so they argue. In a particularly tense moment, Sam confronts his father about what happened to his mother. John’s answer is for Sam to go outside and play. Eventually, John starts looking for Sam and follows him to the beach. Surprisingly, he sees that a picture from the book has become real! He finds Sam in an Arabian tent with a wise dancing elephant they name Lepanto. While playing poker, Sam’s mother Madelyn appears on one of the cards begging for help, so John reluctantly tells Sam that she got sick when he was young and went to Dread City after she died. John hasn’t known how to live to the fullest ever since. Now Sam is convinced they should rescue her. With the on and off again help of the magic book’s pictures, John, Sam, and Lepanto wind up on a once in a lifetime adventure. Their journey is as complicated and unpredictable as it possibly can be. Crossing the Far Land of Fear to get to Dread City is difficult. Each step of the way, servants from Dread City also either follow them or try to thwart their progress. Not knowing how everything will work out is agonizing for them sometimes, but they face each problem the best they can. Through it all, they learn invaluable lessons about love, trust, hope, strength, sacrifice, and commitment. This book has so many surprises that readers will remember it for a long time!
I couldn’t put Orpheus Rising down! It’s an interesting story that constantly had me wondering what would happen next! At 304 pages, it’s fast paced, easy to read, and well-illustrated. My favorite pictures are the unique white prints on a black background. The drawings practically jump off the page and have details that bring the story to life. I like John and Sam as characters because they are honest about what they’re thinking and how they’re feeling throughout their quest, and I think all of the imaginative magic that takes place makes the story fun for kids. It’s written for 8-12 year olds, but I think mature readers might understand the themes in the book best. This is a story about an afterlife called Dread City and the effect that a mother’s death has on the loved ones left behind. Woven into the fantasy of rescuing her is the message that in spite of devastating circumstances in our lives, each of us makes a choice every day whether to be overwhelmed over things we can’t control or to move forward with life somehow even if it’s one small step at a time. When we want something bad enough, we usually experience opposition, but if we don’t ever give up, we’ll be amazed at what we accomplish in the end. As serious as this book is, it’s whimsical and funny too. It has elements that are common in fairy tales and some swashbuckling action. It’s written from the perspective of Sam’s 10 year old imagination, so readers never know what kind of outrageous character or plot-twist will pop up next.