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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The Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley

Reviewed on: May 1, 2002

Jove Books, New York
March 1999

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 Shadowy Horses.

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.

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