This is a novel delivering high value entertainment for a day when you decide to not immerse yourself in morally invigorating, serious and enlightening narratives. James Rollins’ “Excavation” was my first brush with the genre of archaeology. It’s premise is based on adventure, action and mystery – reminding one of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci’s Code in terms of fusing fiction with non-fictional histories. I have absolutely no knowledge of Incan civilizations, and took the “facts of history” (references of religious rites, language etc) given in the story for mere face value.
I would term this book as “mildly exciting” owing to the twists and turns in the story. However, at certain times I felt the story to be tad bit racist and misogynistic. Almost all foreign characters, or rather, people of color, save one (Denal) are portrayed in a negative light as antagonists. The primary female characters of Maggie and Joan seemed too clumsy to fulfill the roles assigned to them, with element of chance accorded to them to further their contributions to the rising action. The African American kid Ralph was painted as a bully, the homosexual character of Norman was subjected to ridicule and shown as a coward. Even Denal’s character, which has immense potential, was misused to the point that his demise would not have left any dent to the main story-line. Keeping him alive till the end, without any significant contributions belittled him as a mere prop, a final salvation on behalf of his ancestors.
The three main characters of Henry, his nephew Sam and his colleague Maggie form the power trio on whom bulk of action is loaded onto. Their decisions further the story in terms of either escaping a challenging situation or being pulled into one. Had the author dispensed off other characters which were used as mere ornaments, the story would not have lost any depth.
The predictability of relationships would often get dreary – harbouring feelings for a colleague, moments of affection and anger, remembrance of past tragedies etc. A lukewarm plot brought forward an even frustrating end, closing the book on a slightly predictable note. All ends well for the group which had been through literal hell. Adverseries meet terrible deaths, and no compensation is awarded (even as an after-thought) to others who died in the process. A bland end dashes away smidgens of thrill gathered during the long read.
Perhaps the only positive takeaway from this book was the painstaking process of world-building which became the novel’s saving grace. Lengthy descriptions of the Sun-Temple, underground labs and tunnels, necropolis and Incan villages gave way to vivid imagery, dousing the reader either with resplendent grandeur of an old civilization or with premonitions of evil lurking just around a corner.
“Excavation” is an ideal read for an indolent afternoon where one seeks to replenish brain juices with some mindless action and plot.