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 Queen Jade by Yxta Maya Murray

Reviewed on: December 1, 2022


HarperCollins Books:  New York
2008 (PB)

UCLA archaeologist Juana Sanchez has set out on a solo quest into the jungles of Guatemala.  Keeping her intentions a secret—even from her daughter Lola as well as her colleagues—she hopes to follow the trail of 16th Century Guatemala governor, Beatriz de la Cueva, to discover a legendary “queen of all jades,” said to have supernatural powers to bestow absolute power, while at the same time capable of destroying those who possess it for nefarious purposes.  Juana may not believe the wilder aspects of the legend, but she does believe there is a kernel of truth in the legends and that the rare blue Jade artifact does—or at least did—in fact, exist.  Journals and private papers left by de la Cueva, as well as documentation by early 19th Century explorer and polymath Alexander von Humboldt, early 20th Century archaeologist Oscar Angel Tapia, and recently deceased Guatemalan archaeologist Tomas de la Rosa—a former colleague of Juana’s--all lend tantalizing clues to the existence of the jade and the pre-Columbian civilization it represented. 

But disaster befalls Juana as Hurricane Mitch, a monstrous storm that devastated much of Central America in late 1998, and she seems to have disappeared in the carnage left in the wake of the natural disaster.   Back in Long Beach, California, Juana’s daughter Lola, owner the Red Lion—a bookstore dedicated to adventure and fantasy books—determines that she must, despite her natural inclination to timidity and to live life vicariously through books, hunt for her missing mother.  She knows the literary trail begins with the journals of Beatriz de la Cueva because of the help she had given her mother in tracking the documents, but she reluctantly realized that further historical clues were required if she were to pick up her mother’s trail.  And those clues might be surrendered by her mother’s colleague and bitter rival, Erik Gomara, a notoriously womanizing UCLA archaeologist, who was also an authority on the aforementioned explorer, Alexander von Humboldt.  

Despite her misgivings, she agrees to join forces with Gomara and together they journey to storm-ravaged Guatemala to pick up her mother’s trail.  As they set out on their venture, they are joined by Yolanda de la Rosa, the brash, swash-buckling daughter of the late Tomas de la Rosa. (She had also lived with Lola for a period of time as young girls while her father had hunted the blue Jade in the back country of Guatemala).  Yolanda reluctantly agrees to join the venture, serving as the little crew’s expert jungle guide, an expertise she acquired while working with her father on his seemingly endless quest.  The crew of searchers is rounded out by the late addition of Manuel Alvarez, Lola’s father and common-law husband to Juana Sanchez, and also the curator of archaeology and ethnology at the museum in Guatemala City.

The adventurers travel the washed-out roads and towns left in the wake of Hurricane Mitch, in search of Lola’s mother, and not incidentally, the legendary blue Jade.  They face myriad dangers—natural and man-made—on their quest, and along the way forge important and long-lasting – and unanticipated—relationships.  And also a most surprising denouement!

This is a beautifully written book, full of high adventure and insights into the human condition.  Each of the principal characters undergo a spiritual growth and metamorphosis that could only come about as a result of their common quest and struggle.   The author conveys an evocative sense of place with vivid descriptions of everything from the lovely Casa Santa Domingo in Antigua to the rain-soaked jungles and washed-out villages of back country Guatemala.

Four trowels for The Queen Jade with the promiser of a review of the sequel The King’s Gold next month!

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