The Ivory Trail - Victor Kelleher
Viking Penguin, October 1999, pb, 213pp, $16.95.
Reviewed by Jonathan Strahan

Victor Kelleher's seventeenth novel for young adults, The Ivory Trail, is a convincingly eery portrait of a family bound together by occult tradition, and is reminiscent of his 1991 novel Brother Night.

Jamie Hassan is a young boy coming of age in a rather bohemian family with a strong tradition of mysticism and spiritual channelling. It's a family tradition that Jamie strongly rejects. However, when, following the death of his grandfather, Jamie is given a ivory carving of an elephant, it sends him on four journeys through time in search of his own spiritual guide. In the first journey Jamie channels the spirit of a young slave trader working in Africa who goes on a hunt for a legendary elephant possessed of enormous tusks. The journey to something reminiscent of the mythical elephant's burial ground forces the practical young man to recognise the power of spirituality. In the second journey, he channels the younger brother of a Victorian gentleman who, plagued by illness travels to Europe in search of a cure. The third sees Jamie, now the son of member of the British Raj who died while hunting, asked to repeat the actions of his father, and defend a village from a marauding tiger. It forces him to confront courage and honour. Finally, Jamie finds himself as a young orphan in outback Australia, forced to decide between a friend who wants him to do wrong, and people who he barely knows, but who have befriended him.

The common thread through Jamie's quartet of adventures is the ivory carving of the elephant which ultimately helps him to uncover depths in himself that he didn't expect, to come to terms with his family inheritance, and to find his own spirit guide. While the structure of The Ivory Trail undermines the overall novelistic feel of the book, it is still an enjoyable and rewarding dark fantasy that is sure to resonate with younger readers.

©1999 Jonathan Strahan.
This review originally appeared in Locus.