My 10 year old son has been devouring the Spirit of the Century novels from Evil Hat, and Dinocalypse Now and Khan of Mars were perfect for him. He won’t be reading King Khan for a few years, though. Not that it’s not a great novel—if you think the story sounds fun, then you should totally go read it. It’s a great romp. But you might want to wait before you give it to your kid.
Professor Khan (a talking gorilla) travels from Oxford University to Los Angeles with his assistant and student Bertie to unravel a mystery. Along the way there are luchadors, movie agents, crazy inventions, corrupt cops, a mummy princess, and, of course, Shirley Temple. It’s a blast, but there are a lot of undertones that make it inappropriate for my kids right now, and very possibly for yours as well.
Full disclosure: King Khan is published by Evil Hat Productions for whom I’ve done some editing. I proofread King Khan, for which I’m credited in the book.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
Sexual attraction is definitely a recurring theme. For the most part, it’s innuendo; however, there is a flashback to an isolated island inhabited only by women. Men are useful only to father daughters, and a character we only know for one chapter is captured by them and…uh…made useful. It’s not explicit, but there’s not a lot of doubt about what happened, either.
MAJOR SPOILER: This is a bit of a big reveal, although it’s not critical to the plot. One of the characters we think is a man turns out to anatomically be a woman. The author and the characters mostly take this in stride and continue to use the male pronoun since that’s obviously how the character self-identifies. But then another character professes his undying love for the first character and it’s a little weird, mostly because it’s unexpected and there’s been no hint at all that the first character has any interest in men. So in some ways it’s handled really well, but in some ways it’s a little uncomfortable.
Sexism, Racism, and Other –Isms
Khan and Sylvia are pretty much the only two characters you should be taking any cues from, and they are both levelheaded and open-minded. When their assumptions are challenged, they’re open about changing their opinions. Sylvia defies the expectations of her gender, although she does it quietly and without calling attention to it—sometimes actively hiding what she’s capable of.
The rest of the characters, however, demonstrate tons of -ims of pretty much every kind. There are derogatory terms, comments, and actions. More prejudiced assumptions than I could count. These are never viewed as ok, but nor are they called out with more than an eye roll. The plot, however, implicitly shows that these –isms are all crap. A mature reader will see that. Perhaps I underestimate my kids, but I’m not sure they’d see how this book is actually against what the characters say and do. And until they will, I’m not ready for them to read this book.
There’s certainly violence, although most of it isn’t excessive or graphic. Death is met with regret, even when it’s necessary. Some of the attacks, though, are weird—like a series of attacks on scientists which leave them comatose and totally, utterly, without any hair. The mummy princess, of course, rips people’s hearts out—it’s a bit disturbing, but fairly par for the course for a mummy princess.
TRIGGER WARNING: The scene on the island where the man is used to father kids? It’s not explicitly violent, but just because he’s willing doesn’t mean he actually has a choice (he’s tied down, among other hints that this is happening no matter what). And then he tries to escape and he ends up dead.
Lots and lots of variations on damn. The occasional use of hell. But overall, no worse than primetime TV.
I think it’s a fun read. When my kids are teenagers, I’ll be happy to let them read it. But for now, they’ll have to wait. A mature and thoughtful 13 year old might be ready, but I’d strongly suggest also reading it so you can talk about the –isms and other potentially uncomfortable things in the novel.
King Khan by Harry Connolly
Published in 2013 by Evil Hat
Sequel to Khan of Mars
Read PDF of proofing copy