Book Reviews

Review Rating

With the October 2004 review, we began rating the books on the basis of one to four trowels; 
one trowel= don’t bother, to four trowels= run right out to your local book store and buy the hard cover!

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Jake Ransom and the Howling Sphinx (for young readers) by James Rollins

Reviewed on: December 1, 2011


HarperCollins Publishers:  New York City
2011 (hc)

Well, here it is, just a couple of weeks until Christmas and you still don’t have a present for that ten-year-old on your gift list.  You could just grab a graphically violent video game from Best Buy or you could try something really daring and buy him or her a hardcover book!  Or, yes, I guess an e-book would be ok, too.  If you’re tempted, then let me recommend Jake Ransom and the Howling Sphinx, the second in adult thriller author James Rollins’ delightful Jake Ransom series.

The first in the series, Jake Ransom and the Skull King’s Shadow (reviewed here in May 2010), readers were introduced to Jake and his older sister Kady, who were spirited away to Pangaea, the landmass that existed before plate tectonics created the continents of our present world.  This mysterious world hinted that perhaps it held the secret of the disappearance of the Ransom kids’ parents, archaeologists Penelope and Richard.  The land of Calypsos, located in a remote part of Pangaea was a strange place indeed.  Ancient Maya existed side by side with Vikings, Romans, and even Neanderthals—not to mention a variety of dinosaurs!  Their search for their parents led them into conflict with the nefarious Skull King, and while they were able to vanquish him—at least temporarily—they seemed no closer to discovering the fate of their mom and dad when volume one of this saga ended—and Howling Sphinx picks up, three months after their return to peaceful, placid Ravengate Manor in North Hampshire, Connecticut.

The peace and quiet doesn’t last long as Jake is rescued from certain kidnapping by Morgan Drummond, the mysterious head of security for the London-based Bledsworth Sundries and Industries, an even more mysterious corporate entity that seems to have played a role—in one way or another—in the Ransoms’ disappearance and Jake and Kady’s earlier adventures in Calypsos.  Jake believes the would-be kidnapers were after his father’s watch, which he discovered in Pangaea, and which may hold the key to his and Kady’s return to the ancient land and the continuation of their quest to find their parents.  The sign of an Egyptian ankh is inscribed on the watch and it is with great anticipation that Jake and Kady look forward to a trip to New York’s National Museum of Natural History, and a new Egyptian exhibit’s grand opening—sponsored by Bledsworth Sundries and Industries!

The discovery at the exhibit that a horribly deformed mummy is actually the mummified remains of a grakyl—one of the Skull King’s faithful shock troops from Pangaea!  A desperate tug of war commences and Jake is thrust into a dizzying vortex that deposits him in a desolate and sandy desert.  When he is reunited with his friends Marika, a Mayan maiden, Pindor the young Roman, and Bach’uuk, the Neanderthal boy, and finally his sister Kady, they presume they are in Pangaea, but far from the familiar surroundings of Calypsos.  And so begins the adventure in Desheret, a land inhabited by an ancient Egyptian culture that is in the throes of being overthrown by the evil Master Kree and the Blood of Ka, a dark and sinister sect that is controlled by the Skull King.  Desheret, much to Jake’s discomfort, is known as the land “where life is hard and the only escape is death!”

Along the way they are accosted by hissing carnivorous cactus plants as well as velociraptors, but far more dangerous are the hordes of grakyls that slavishly follow Master Kree.  It soon becomes evident that Jake, and more directly his father’s watch, are the targets of Kree and the Skull King’s nefarious attacks—for without the secret the watch holds, the Skull King cannot himself enter the land of Desheret and continue his plan to dominate all of Pangaea—or so Jake believes.

The young adventurers finally battle the forces of darkness at the ruined site of Ankh Tawy, a city that legend holds was destroyed hundreds of years earlier by a woman from Calypsos who looked very much like Penelope Ransom!  The ultimate battle for Ankh Tawy brings Jake and Kady tantalizingly close to discovering what happened to their parents but the story ends with no definitive answer to that question, nor the answer to so many other questions raised by these two initial volumes of the Jake Ransom saga, such as:  How are Calypsos and Desheret related?  How and why were Lost Tribes of Egyptians, Romans, Vikings, Mayans and Neanderthals brought to Pangaea?  How did Jake and Kady’s mom and dad fit into the mysteries of Pangaea and were they still alive?  The answers to these and other puzzling questions must await future volumes, but it is certain that Penelope’s warning, left hundreds of years earlier when Ankh Tawy was destroyed—“Beware of Loki”—hints that Jake and Kady’s next adventure may well include Norse mythology, rune lore and Viking history.  And I can hardly wait!

This is a full-throttle adventure tale that should keep young readers turning pages late into the evening.  While it might seem at first blush that this is a book meant for young boys only, the strong female characters of Kady and Princess Nefertiti, who joins in the battle to save her land from the evil Kree and his master, the Skull King, should also hold the interest of young girls also.

Three trowels for this second installment in the Jake Ransom saga!

Twenty Years in the Trenches: Archaeology in Fiction

William Gresens, longtime MVAC supporter and volunteer, has been writing reviews of archaeological fiction as MVAC’s book reviewer for twenty years.  In this interview Bill shares how he got started writing reviews for MVAC, how the genre has changed, highlights, and his thoughts looking forward. 

Bill Gresen’s Book Review 20th Anniversary

While Bill's reviews go back 20 years now, his relationship with MVAC goes back more than twice that long! The reviews capture some of the things we enjoy most about Bill-- he's perceptive, methodical, a clear thinker, and a whole lot of fun! We look forward to this relationship--and Bill's reviews!--continuing for many years to come.

The March 2021 review marks the 20th anniversary of reviews of archaeological fiction.  It has been my pleasure and great fun to while away the hours reading these books—for the most part, at least—and writing the reviews!  My thanks to MVAC allowing me to prattle on and I look forward to the years ahead.

Bill Gresens