Lair of the Serpent is the third book in a young adult series by Terri Lynn Adams that Life of Pi co-producer Kevin Buxbaum said is ‘destined to become Hollywood’s next major motion picture trilogy.” And these were no idle words. He backed up his opinion by buying the motion picture rights! This is a series that has a real shot at greatness.
I hadn’t read the previous chapters – Tombs of Terror and The Lost Curse – but I still found it easy to pick up the backstory in Lair of the Serpent. The characters’ background and references to past events were interwoven clearly into the current plot without slowing the story down. Lair of the Serpent is the story of three teenage friends from different cultures: Jonathan, a seventeen year old American; Severino, a former member of the Peruvian rebel group Shining Path, and his sister Delia, a beautiful and intrepid young woman for whom Jonathan carries a brightly burning torch.
The story begins in Cambodia where altruistic youths Severino and Delia are serving as medical volunteers in a remote village called Preak Torl. There, Delia is kidnapped, and this immediately plunges the story into the dark and sinister world of human trafficking. Jonathan had previously arranged to fly into Phnom Penh to meet his friends, but instead of a happy reunion and a holiday, he and Severino set out on a quest to rescue Delia.
What happens next is a desperate search through the back alleys and backwashes of the seamier side of Cambodian life. The two boys find adventure, danger, misadventures, and an assortment of surprising allies and devious enemies. Through it all their friendship is tested and tried but never wavers. Friends to the last, through a combination of luck, courage, ingenuity, and sheer perseverance, they edge ever closer to the truth of what happened to Delia and what role she has to play in the Cambodian legend of the serpent and the Naga Mani.
Lair of the Serpent is targeted towards young adults, i.e., teenagers of about seventeen, the age of the story’s protagonists. For this audience, I believe the story hits a bulls-eye. Adams does a marvelous job of getting inside her characters’ psyche. Too many YA TV shows, books, and movies are written by adults who have forgotten what it was like to be a teenager. Teenagers are generally not more intelligent, more sophisticated, more confident, and more sexually experienced than the adults around them. They are generally highly emotional and struggling to find their place in an adult world, but capable of loyalty, love, and friendship that burns very brightly though it may not be particularly profound in its expression. Adams knows this and throughout the story, her characters stay true to who they are. They win the day while continuing to be teenagers. They sometimes have to rely on adults. They sometimes have to trust their instincts. They sometimes have no one to rely on but each other.
Another strong point is that the book does not condescend to its young audience. It tackles head-on the scourge of human trafficking. The loss of a loved one, taken, gone, disappeared forever, looms over the entire story. And while the reader is left to imagine all sorts of horrors, those horrors are never explicit. Adams handles it masterfully. It’s clear she’s done her homework on the subject. It’s never sordid and never steps over the line, but the premise is thought provoking and gut wrenching.
It’s an exciting story, not only in the search for Delia, but also in the real-life and well-researched Cambodian legends Adams brings to life that make the story more than an adventure, but also a mystery – and an educational one at that.
But in the end, Lair of the Serpent is about friendship. It’s about good kids making moral decisions motivated by friendship and love to do their duty to each other no matter what the risk. There was something noble, touching, and poignantly simple in their interactions. In many ways it was an inspirational read.