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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Cries from the Lost Island (for young readers) by Kathleen O’Neal Gear

Reviewed on: September 1, 2022


DAW Books, Inc.:  New York
2020 (HC)

Kathleen O’Neal Gear has co-authored, along with her husband W. Michael Gear, more than twenty-five volumes in the “North America’s Forgotten Past” series.  Both have independently written stand-alone novels, and Cries from the Lost Island may well be Ms. Gear’s very best.

The reader is introduced to an unusual young man: Halloran (Hal) Stevens is an over-weight, un-athletic, unpopular high school kid from a small Colorado town, who happens to excel at ancient history, and, in fact, is a three-time winner of the Colorado Classics Award—an achievement that does not make him any more popular among his peers.  His best (and very likely, only) friend is Robert (“Roberto”) Dally, self-styled “biker witch” and dedicated aficionado of video and role-playing games.  Needless to say, these are two very square pegs in the round holes of Georgetown High School.

True to form, Hal falls in love with an equally “square peg” girl:  Cleo Mallawi is a beautiful young refugee from strife-torn Egypt; her parents were killed in the revolution and she was brought to America by her Aunt Sophia and her husband, James Moriarty, professor of archaeology and Egyptology at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.  Cleo is generally thought to be more than a bit mad—understandably traumatized by the violence she had witnessed in Egypt—by most everyone, including her adoptive guardians and even Hal’s psychiatrist mother.  For Cleo is able to spin wonderfully vivid tales of ancient Egypt because she believes that she is the reincarnation of Queen Cleopatra.  Cleo further believes that she continues to be reincarnated because she is stalked by the Egyptian god, Ammut the Devourer, the Egyptian demoness with the head of a crocodile, the body of a leopard, and the backside of a hippopotamus, who has kept her from reaching the Island of Two Flames—the Egyptian Land of the Dead—for the past two thousand years.  Cleo gives Hal a medallion, said to have been hers in 50 BC.  She was to have given it to a legendary Egyptian archaeologist named Samael Saqqara who in return would give her a sacred dagger that would allow her soul to travel to the Island of Two Flames and eternal rest.  This could easily be the fever dream of a disturbed young woman, until Cleo is pursued in the woods near her aunt’s home and dies in Hal’s arms, bleeding out from gashes to her arms and legs, and Hal is convinced he was being watched by a figure whose likeness was that of Ammut the Devourer.

Cleo’s archaeologist uncle, James Moriarty, convinces Hal, who in turn convinces his buddy Roberto, to travel to Egypt with him to participate in his excavations at the ancient site of Pelusium, not too distant from modern day Alexandria.  Moriarty believes the experience will help Hal deal with the terrible pain of losing Cleo.  Or does he believe Cleo has imparted her almost mystical knowledge of ancient Egypt to Hal, who in turn will help Moriarty discover his personal holy grail:  the remains of Cleopatra and Marc Antony.  What follows is a beautifully rendered adventure—reality or fugue state?—that will take Hal and Roberto into realms of high adventure they could never have imagined.  Perceived enemies may be allies, and apparent friends may, in reality, be deadly enemies.  And along the way, Ms. Gear slips in wonderfully evocative descriptions of Ptolemaic Egypt and modern day archaeological excavation.

Cries from the Lost Island is catalogued as YA (Young Adult) literature but this NVYA (Not Very Young Adult) reviewer found it a mesmerizing read deserving of four trowels!  Perhaps best of all, there is a hint in the very last paragraphs that Hal and Roberto, no longer callow role-playing high school boys, may be in for more adventures—this time involving the ancient temples at Karnak.

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