Sphinx by TS Learner (Fiction)

posted 8 Apr 2010, 14:12 by DP Durlston-Powell   [ updated 14 Apr 2010, 15:04 ]
Backcover blurb:

An ancient treasure. A deadly sacrifice. And a secret to kill for. Alexandria, Egypt, 1977. During a dive to an old shipwreck, archaeologist Isabella Warnock uncovers an artefact unlike anything she has ever seen: an astrarium, a mysterious device rumoured to have shaped the destinies of pharaohs and kings since the beginning of time. But her discovery comes at a terrible price, and it falls to her husband Oliver to keep the priceless object safe. Up against a shadowy enemy and a powerful cult prepared to do anything for the treasure, Oliver is catapulted into a breakneck race to protect an ancient secret in a dangerous world of conspiracy and Egyptology, where age-old sorcery and legends clash violently with modern-day ambitions. Fast-paced and utterly gripping, SPHINX is the must-read thriller for fans of Kate Mosse and Dan Brown.

My review:

This genre is dominated by male authors and most of the books follow a well-trodden path, but Learner's novel arrives with a refreshingly different perspective that produces a satisfyingly strong narrative. The essential ingredients that define the genre are all present and correct: an ancient secret/artefact is uncovered; powerful groups of 'baddies' seem willing to do anything to gain it and turn it to their advantage; the lead character is forced into a world they're unfamiliar with; danger lurks around every corner; grim killers abound; a love interest surfaces and skin of the teeth escapes tumble forth. However, the plot twists are far more cunningly disguised than normal and left me guessing which characters could and couldn't be trusted. Also, the scrapes and escapes are more plausible than average without being any the less exciting. Every character's back story appears relevant and helps to propel the plot forward, whilst the mix of natural and supernatural is nicely balanced and delivers a pleasing final punchline. But most of all, the lead character's confusion, doubts, scepticism and motivation are all adeptly portrayed and allow the reader to connect in a way that is missing from most novels in the genre. There are a few very minor glitches that made me aware of the writing such as the astrarium being repeatedly described as 'a secret for a thousand years' although it was lost in 342BC (ie 2352 years ago - more than double the claimed period ago) and has been used, according to the blurb, 'since the beginning of time' when it was apparently made for Ramses III (1220-1155 BC) which is hardly the same thing. But these were very minor bumps in an otherwise smooth and glorious road through splendid surroundings and shouldn't detract from the fact that this is undoubtedly one of the smartest, most compelling novels of its genre and stands head and shoulders above the works of Kate Mosse and Dan Brown, against which it compares itself.

My verdict:

I want to keep an eye out for more of Learner's work - this one easily makes it into the Top 5 list.