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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Oasis (for young readers) by Katya De Becerra

Reviewed on: October 1, 2023


Imprint:  New York City
2020 (HC)

This thrilling, mind-bending Young Adult (YA) novel is told through the eyes of Alif Scholl, recent secondary school graduate who, along with four close school chums, determine to spend a few weeks together on an archaeology dig before they get on with the rest of their lives.  The dig is located at Tell Abrar in the desert emirate of Dubai and is directed by Alif’s father Andreas, head of the archaeology program at Dunstan University in Melbourne, Australia.

The five are greeted at the Dubai airport by Tommy Ortiz, the tall, dark, handsome and brooding research assistant to Andreas, and he quickly whisks them away to the dig site and just as quickly steals Alif’s heart.  She is smitten by Tommy, which clearly ticks off Luke Stokowski, one of Alif’s travel companions, who had romantic designs on Alif in mind.  To further complicate matters, two other companions—Rowen Syme Jr. and Lori Bradford—have become a passionate couple during the trip, thus alienating the fifth member of the group—Minh Quoc—who had been Rowen’s main romantic interest until very recently.  Obviously, this little adventure getaway had all the makings of a real disaster!

But the inter-personal dysfunction recedes into the background when the group reaches the camp at Tell Abrar and they learn that many of the local workers and London crew members have walked off the job because the project has disturbed “restless spirits,” several injuries to workers have occurred, and the vision of a phantom walled city in the desert is reported.  Tommy Ortiz himself has added to the camp’s restiveness by posting tales of excavators gone missing in the 1990s and vague references to a meteor crash near the site in the early 20th century on the quirky blog run by Dunstan grad students.  Nonetheless, the quarrelsome friends are put to work on the dig—but not, perhaps, as they had imagined.  While Alif had been an archaeology “camp brat” from a young age, none of her friends had any such experience; consequently, Lori and Rowen volunteered for kitchen duty, and Alif, Minh and Luke were assigned to post-dig artifact labeling—not exactly Indiana Jones-style adventure!

More drama is introduced when a Frenchman wanders into the encampment, deliriously muttering stories relating to Mesopotamian folklore—even though Dubai is far from ancient Mesopotamia.  He further stuns his rescuers by claiming that his most recent memories were of attending a conference in Dubai two years earlier!  Mysteries deepen as a deadly sandstorm suddenly strikes the camp and the five young people, plus Tommy, find themselves hopelessly lost in the storm and cut off from the encampment.  This is where the adventure really begins as they stumble upon a verdant oasis that offers up succulent fruits, blessed shade from the blistering desert, and fresh, clean flowing spring water.  But this seeming paradise has perhaps a much darker side—a sinister mystery hidden in a cave-like temple.  Tempers begin to fray, and friendships are in tatters as each of the young adventurers learn much about themselves—and each other—and not all of it is benign.  Reality and fantasy begin to blend as the young people begin to realize they may never escape this paradise—that something may not want them to escape!

Oasis is great fun, and while the main characters (with the possible exceptions of Alif and Tommy) are fairly obnoxious, the adventure is first rate.  Three trowels for this novel aimed at young readers—but thoroughly enjoyed by this not-so-young reader!

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