My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Copy provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review.
I started this book with some trepidation. I had read Olmec Obituary and not enjoyed it as much as I hoped I would. Whilst I had been a fan of the story itself (mostly), Elizabeth Pimms was not my favourite protagonist. I am happy to report she started to grow on me a bit in this next novel. Elizabeth is dumped by her feckless boyfriend, Luke, in the opening chapters of the novel, but only after he has informed her he has arranged for her to analyse remains found in a Mayan city. She is devastated, but the readers know she has totally dodged a bullet. Luckily, she now has the remains to focus on, and focus she does. There is also the question of the antagonistic Mai, who we learn could be Lizzie’s half sister. Through her friend Alice, Elizabeth arranges DNA testing – which provides a nice stream of tension throughout the story.
I found the archaeological story in this novel much more interesting than the first – the story of Lady Six Sky was fascinating, and quite riveting. She was certainly a woman to be reckoned with, and not one to cross. I appreciated this part of Owen’s storytelling much more this time around and I enjoyed the writing very much. However, I still struggled to feel engaged by Dr Elizabeth Pimms. The bit-players were the ones I found more interesting. Her sister Sam, driven like Elizabeth, but a little more emotionally intelligent; the increasingly gorgeous workmate Nathan – always there being supportive and nurturing; Alice – the grad student who knows her way around genetic material; Matty -the disabled brother who just wants to look after his big sister. Those characters felt more believable to me, more accessible. Again, it is about little things with Elizabeth. This time she was more or less okay until almost the end of the book; when she gives her family a new games chest – containing classic board games such as Cluedo and Monopoly. Elizabeth has a crisis over giving her family a game of Monopoly:
“Elizabeth had felt uneasy about replacing their Monopoly set, given that its female inventor and patentee Elizabeth Magie had been well and truly Franklined out of her rightful rewards by the patriarchy. The idea that Elizabeth was lining the pockets of the corporation that man-washed Magie from the pages of her own history troubled Elizabeth’s conscience. Nonetheless, the boardgame was a staple of family gatherings, and Elizabeth had been able to use it as originally intended by its creator – to strike up conversations examining the horrors of unrestrained capitalism”
WHAT? Up until this moment, on page 328 no less, we have had no indication of Elizabeth’s rancour against “the patriarchy” and frankly I understood Sam’s frustration with Elizabeth if she used a game of Monopoly to have a conversation about the “horrors of capitalism”. Seriously – the whole tone of the novel changed to preachy and it rankled.
Also, the term “phrenic library” still does not appear in the glossary in the back of the book, which I feel is a major oversight. And, on the subject of that very library, if this library exists in Elizabeth’s subconscious, but under her control as we are led to believe, how the hell does a STRANGER appear in it?
The third novel, Alexandrian Athenaeum, had better have some pretty convincing explanations for that, because if it doesn’t I’m not sure I can go on following Pimms’ adventures. They will just be too far-fetched all together.
Suitable for ages 15 and up.