Ben Gartner’s The Eye of Ra series takes readers on a grand adventure through time and space as siblings John and Sarah stumble upon a way to travel through time and space. This post will include reviews for The Eye of Ra and Sol Invictus, the first two books in the Eye of Ra series.
The Eye of Ra
The Eye of Ra has great world building, pulling the reader in from the first page and introducing the protagonists. We learn about John and Sarah’s world in present day Colorado, their relationships, and their family dynamic. Their sibling relationship is strained after Sarah explores a cave on a whim, and they’re magically transported to ancient Egypt. As they try to find their way back home, their self-perception and relationship with one another will change forever.
The primary main characters are likable, relatable, and I especially love how the sibling bond is portrayed realistically. John and Sarah’s relationship isn’t perfect, they don’t always get along, and they often feel guilty for their missteps. They also discover that their coping mechanisms, which are mostly harmless at home, have a higher risk in ancient times. It’s much harder to stomp off in a huff when Nile crocodiles, a swarm of scorpions, and a frightening hooded tomb raider are wandering around!
I love how educational content is incorporated into the plot without being overbearing. This book teaches history organically; showing modern kids in an ancient setting is the ideal way to teach about a subject without sounding teach-y. The educational aspects are expertly woven into the plot and feel natural.
The Eye of Ra is a treat to read and sure to be a hit with young readers (and enjoyable for caregivers reading aloud, too!).
Sol Invictus is book two in the series, and picks up shortly after the events of the first book. John and Sarah are settling into life in Maryland after their move, but their relationship is still strained from the events of the first book.
On a family trip to a museum, John and Sarah are learning about the Roman Empire when a blast from the past– their own and the world’s– shows up. In an act of desperation, John traces the Eye of Ra. In a flash, he and Sarah are once again in the past, but this time they find themselves in an arena, surrounded by a crowd awaiting gladiators.
Something is different this round. This time, John and Sarah are on a mission. They’ve been told to unite the emperor with a member of the Alemanni, or risk grave danger to their own time. But can they trust the messenger that relayed their mission? Or is it all a trick? Sarah and John must find the right path, or their way home could be locked.
Sol Invictus does a great job of continuing the story and adding to the events of the first book, without repeating the first plot in a different setting. The Roman frontier is well depicted, highlighting a lesser-known historical era and continuing to intricately weave history and plot together so that one supports the other.
More wonderful characters arrive on the scene, demonstrating strength and leadership regardless of age. I love how each character is intricately developed, easily discernible and simple to keep track of. The series, as a whole, is expertly crafted. The plot is a bit more nuanced, and grows in maturity as the reader will have grown as well. In The Eye of Ra, I didn’t truly fear for any character’s life. In Sol Invictus, I was less certain of the outcome — and rightly so. A supporting character does perish in this book, so be aware when your younger readers are near the end. There are also multiple battle scenes in this book, but they aren’t gratuitous.
This book is also superbly paced, keeping the plot exciting while also building up to personal revelations for each character and to the book’s climax. It’s inspiring to see John learn to stand up for himself while Sarah learns how to be independent and true to herself. The characters are flawed in highly relatable ways, and I’m sure many young readers will easily see aspects of themselves within these pages.
The setting is a character unto itself in each book, opening the door to learning about that time and place but also likely inspiring further research when the book is done. Many a young reader will finish these books and likely be fascinated with ancient Egypt and the Roman frontier.
The Eye of Ra series is a great next step for Magic Tree House fans— it’s still historically based, but has much higher stakes, more danger, and more complicated characters in nuanced situations. It’s the perfect bridge between Magic Tree House and Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series.
The Eye of Ra and Sol Invictus are available now. Stay tuned for a review of book three, People of the Sun, which will be released February 1, 2022. Look for my review in January!
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