THE SHADOWY HORSES
By: Susanna Kearsley
Jove Books, New York
In the year or so since these reviews first began
as a regular feature within the MVAC website, I have featured works of
archaeological fiction from several genres:
political thrillers, a variety of mystery sub-genres, science
fiction, horror, and even a quasi-text book.
It became apparent that I had overlooked one important
category—a category, in fact, that outsells every other genre in
fiction. That category is, of course, the romance novel!
Romance novels have long used archaeology as a
backdrop for their heavy breathing epics—exotic locales, studly heroes
in fedoras and ravishingly beautiful heroines are practically synonymous
with the average archaeological excavation, as we well know—just ask
anyone who has participated in an MVAC adult field school.
Not surprisingly, most of these are pretty dreadful works of
literature (although usually quite profitable), but there are some very
notable and very worthwhile exceptions.
Perhaps the best known and of consistently high
quality are the novels of Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels—especially
the wonderful Amelia Peabody series.
But I’d like to briefly review a lesser-known writer, Susanna
Kearsley, and her quirky but endearing archaeological romance, The
Set on the North Sea coast of Scotland, The
Shadowy Horses includes the requisite set of characters (many of
whom spend a good deal of time brooding), a semi-mystical locale,
passions simmering just below the surface, a little boy gifted with
“second sight,” and even the possibility of a ghost—in this case,
the shade of a long-dead Roman legionnaire from the legendary Legio
IX Hispana—who protects what might be the last campsite of the
soldiers of the Ninth Legion.
Our heroine, Verity Grey, is pretty, plucky,
somewhat demure, but still her very own person—and an archaeologist,
to boot. David Fortune is
the darkly handsome broody boy archaeologist of uncertain parentage, who
may, if things work out well, may just get the heroine in the
end—unless she decides to take the offer to join a dig in Egypt when
this Scottish project is complete. I shan’t (as they say in romance novels) give away her
choice. If it seems I
am dismissing this novel as far too fluffy and lightweight for my
elevated literary tastes, read on!
I very much liked the novel (in fact, I’ve now read it twice!)
and while I think it is probably quite formulaic, the characters
are reasonably well drawn, the plot interesting, and the archaeology
very accurate, including fairly complex explanations of high tech
archaeological tools such as ground-penetrating radar and more
traditional methods of excavation.
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