The Curse of the Crystal Cavern opens with a guide to the five pathfinders; Kyle, the new kid in town, Beth, Harry, Victoria, and Nate. Kyle is white, and the others are a diverse group including two boys with brown skin and Victoria, who is Black. A recap of the first book (The Mystery of the Moon Tower) explains that the five followed clues and, with some mysterious help from the past, discovered a treasure—but that was only the beginning of their adventure…
The main narrative starts with a flashback to the original Pathfinders Society, then cuts to our new group of Pathfinders traveling into a dark cave. As they journey through the cave system, they encounter riddles, tasks, and perils from mysterious underground gases to crumbling rocks. With the help of the strange device they discovered in the last book and the various talents of each member, they make it out of the underground tunnels just in time for a little research at the town historical society, a jump back in time to see the dissolution of the original Pathfinders, and more hints about the villainous developers. The friends make a second foray into the tunnels, knowing that time is running out for Camp Pathfinder, and encounter even more dangers and mysteries, finally making it back home safely… or have they?
Like the first book, this story ends on a cliffhanger, introducing more plot points and mysteries than it resolves. The developer’s villainous plans for using the mysterious powers of Windrose are expanded on slightly and there is a little more information about the original society’s plans and problems, but the main emphasis is on the current-day friends working together to solve the various puzzles and escape the traps they encounter.
The large cast makes it challenging for readers to differentiate the protagonists beyond their one-dimensional characterization. Harry is a jokester, Victoria is a math whiz, Beth knows local history, etc. All but Nate, who is represented as stocky and Latino, have the same streamlined, skinny body type, and their faces show minimal ranges of emotion. The most artistic detail is put into the underground scenes and the non-stop action as the kids run, climb, jump, and swim through the dangerous caverns. As soon as they solve one glowing, golden-plated set of puzzles, they tumble through the dark to another challenge. Classical images and Latin are sprinkled throughout, from the frequently repeated motto of “Plus Ultra” (More Beyond) to images of Hercules, pillars, labyrinths, and more.
The creators seem to have given up on the historical background woven into the first book in favor of action, riddles, and occasional jumps back through time to add to the mystery. While often stereotypical of middle grade adventures with a representative cast (that nevertheless focuses on the white boy), an evil developer, and trite lessons about friendship and cooperation, this is nevertheless an attractive story for readers who want a fast-moving story with lots of clues to solve and not too much plot to get in the way of the momentum.
The Pathfinders Society, vol. 2: The Curse of the Crystal Cavern
By Francesco Sedita, Prescott Seraydarian
Art by Steve Hamaker
Viking Children’s Books, 2021
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)