the Little Red Reviewer

The Meq, by Steve Cash

Posted on: February 14, 2011

The Meq, by Steve Cash

published in 2005 by Del Rey

Where did I get it: Borrowed

why did I read it? good friend recommended, and kindly let me borrow it

In Steve Cash’s debut novel The Meq, he presents a rather compelling premise.  It’s the late 1800’s, and young Zianno is travelling via train across the United States with his parents. He’s just turned twelve.  His mother says she has something important to tell him, and moments later the there is a horrific accident in which his parents are killed.  Orphaned and alone, Zianno, who goes by Z, is adopted by Solomon, a travelling merchant. Solomon knows right away there is something special about this kid.

Z learns the hard way that he is “Meq”, a race of people who don’t age after they reach twelve. Their minds age of course, but not their bodies. Meq know each other by their similar look and the special senses.  Z is taken to a mountain village in the Rockies, where he meets others of his kind,  and gets a tease as to what and who he might be.  Z embarks on a quest to find some of the oldest Meq in existence to learn about his family and the truth of his people, before it’s too late.

For millenia, the Meq have lived in secret among us. Their cultural history is in the Pyrenees, speaking the Basque language.  A smart little trick Cash pulls here,  giving his hidden race a language that is connected to no other language spoken on Earth. The novel is sprinkled with Basque words as well, which sound deliciously alien when I attempted to pronounce them.

As the world shrinks, how long can the Meq stay safe and secret?  Z’s quest will take him from one end of America to the other, to China and beyond.  Although the story spans at least 30 years, Z doesn’t seem to mature or change much. His kind are practically immortal, perhaps everything happens a little slower? Much of the action that takes place outside the United States is simplified, handled in almost a montage fashion.

Taking place mostly in St Louis, Cash is obviously an amateur St Louis historian and lover of the city, and an avid baseball fan.   Much name dropping of famous St Louis-ians and New Orleansians occur, as Z and his friends visit jazz clubs and the St Louis Worlds fair.  I gotta say, the Saint Louis name dropping and baseball trivia got old and distracting after a while.

At first, I thought this was a young adult novel.  Physically, Z is “locked” at twelve years old, along with most of his Meq compatriots. They have to navigate the world as children, sometimes lying to get what they need, or travelling with adult chaperones. The plot, characters, and relationships have a glossed over, almost chaste feel to them. The suspense is light, and friends come out of the woodwork just in time to save people, there is rarely times of actual danger. Just past the half way point though, the novel takes a decidedly adult turn, with houses of ill-repute, human trafficking, and sexual situations. Well, that was unexpected. And incongruous.

The Meq starts out with a lot of potential and a great concept.  Who are the Meq? aliens? more evolved humans? something supernatural?  I appreciated that Z was only given small tastes of what was going on at one time, and so the reader is left guessing at every turn.  Unfortunately, Cash just couldn’t keep it together.

Around page 240, I put the book down, and didn’t pick it up again.   I had an inkling of where Cash might take the story, but he was taking far too long to get there, to make a decision about where this was all going.  Sadly, at about the two thirds point, I stopped caring.

Yes, that’s correct. I’m writing a “review” for a book I didn’t even finish.  

The Meq is not a bad book by any means, it just wasn’t that good. This is a book that’s gotten some glowing reviews, and that’s wonderful. If you’re looking for something light and fun  with action and globe trotting and special powers for a lazy afternoon, the book is just fine.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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