Review: 'An Army of Frogs: A Kulipari Novel', by Trevor Pryce
This is one of those officially-Young Adult books (recommended age: 10 to 18) that adults should enjoy equally. Advance reviews are comparing it favorably with Jacques’ Redwall books and “Hunter’s” Warriors books about the talking cat clans.
With the stealth of a warrior, Darrel hopped along a wide branch, tracking the two scouts below. A waterfall roared in the distance, and a tasty-looking fig wasp flitted past.
Darrel ignored a pang of hunger, resisting the urge to shoot his tongue at the wasp for a quick snack.
Dinner could wait until he’d dealt with the enemy. (p. 1)
An Army of Frogs gets off to a rousing start. The back-cover blurb is a good summary:
Darrel, a young frog, dreams of joining the Kulipari, an elite squad of poisonous frog warriors sworn to defend the Amphibilands. Unfortunately, Darrel’s dream is impossible, because he isn’t a poisonous frog and no one’s seen the Kulipari since the last scorpion war, long ago. Anyway, now the frogs’ homeland is protected by the turtle king’s magic. So it no longer needs defending – or does it?
Enter the spider queen, a powerful dreamcaster capable of destroying the turtle king’s protective spell. She and her ally Lord Marmoo, leader of a vicious army of scorpions, are bent on conquering the frogs’ lush homeland. The frogs have never been more vulnerable. Can Daryl save the day and become the warrior of his dreams?
Everyone called it that – the village -- even though there were dozens of villages in the valley.
Some of the villages were in the canopies of interwoven trees, and others were in deep burrows carpeted with moss and illuminated with glowworms. There were swamp villages with reed huts, floating pond villages, and creek and grass and waterfall villages. There were even some frogs who lived in the coastal scrub, near the beach, and mostly ate crabs.
The most common, though, were the leaf villages, for ordinary wood frogs like Darrel. And he didn’t like to admit it, but the leaf villages were his favorite. Fallen leaves of every color and shape and size were joined to wooden frames and stone foundations, into entryways and cottages and peaks and pagodas. With bustling marketplaces and wide, smooth trails, the leaf villages were the threads that stitched the Amphibilands together. (p. 18)
The scorpions, their enemies from time immemorial, live in the nearby dry outback:
‘No, my lord. Your army is ten times bigger than any scorpion horde since the time of legend.’
‘Indeed. But as our numbers increase, we drain the outback. We’re running out of food and water. We need a more fertile land.’ Lord Marmoo’s pincers snapped shut. ‘We need the Amphibilands, and soon it will be ours.’ (p. 34)
(According to Wikipedia, the only area of Australia where tree frogs live both near the dry outback and in a lush area near a coast would be in Australia’s northwest.)
Darrel dreams of becoming a member of the Kulipari warriors, a band of poisonous frogs pledged to protecting the Amphibilands, as his father was. Unfortunately, Darrel has inherited his tree frog mother’s lack of poison. Anyway, no one has seen the Kulipari for a generation, since they won the Hidingwar against the scorpions in which Darrel’s father had been killed. That war was brought about when the beautiful but evil spider Queen Jarrah betrayed the turtle King Sergu, who for more than a hundred years had “kept the peace between the scorpions and spiders, and he took extra care to protect the frog nation -- we’re tough, but we’re fragile.” (p. 42) Darrel is too young to disagree with the frogs’ Chief Olba, but he is uneasy with the frogs’ complacency.
With good reason. The spider Queen Jarrah is ready to attack the turtle king openly at last, and she has formed an alliance with the scorpions’ Lord Marmoo and his second-in-command, Commander Pigo, who have built up a huge army and are ready to invade the Amphibilands as soon as turtle King Sergu’s magic protective Veil is destroyed.
An Army of Frogs follows Darrel, who is usually in trouble for fighting with Arabanoo’s gang of juvenile delinquent tree frogs. Darrel and his best friend Gee (Gurnugan) sneak off to a distant border area of the Amphibilands near the outback to get a wattleflower that their friend Coorah needs for some herbal medicine. They are horrified to discover the army of scorpions already entering the Amphibilands in preparation for the Veil’s destruction. Gee is captured, and Darrel is torn between trying to rescue him (which would mean sneaking into the scorpion’s camp, like a brave Kulipari warrior undoubtedly would), or leaving to find the turtle king to warn him (which would be more prudent, but would mean abandoning Gee).
Darrel’s decision leads to the remaining almost-200 pages of the novel. The reader should not be surprised to find that it ends on a cliffhanger since the book has a big “1” on the spine.
An Army of Frogs is a fast-paced adventure of manly derring-do for adolescent male readers. It contains numerous batrachian references such as Darrel, his mother, and his friends hopping instead of walking; Darrel’s preference for traveling through the branches of trees instead of on the ground; and Darrel’s worry about being “ponded” (grounded) by his mother if he gets caught. The title itself is another reference; the collective pronoun for a group of frogs is an “army”.
Trevor Pryce is best-known as a NFL veteran for 14 years as a defensive end for the Denver Broncos, the Baltimore Ravens, and the New York Jets. Joel Naftali is the author of both Young Adult novels and career guides for recent high school and college graduates. Illustrator Sanford Greene is a currently “hot” artist of realistic adventure and costumed-hero comic books for DC, Marvel, and Dark Horse. An Army of Frogs is in color throughout, from its forest-green-tinted text pages to its full color illustrations, including many glossy full-page and double-page spreads that look like stills from CGI animated movies with anthropomorphized frogs, other reptiles, scorpions, and a sexy spider queen.