RFS Publications, 2007
300 pages, Mystery/adventure
2 1/2 out of 5 stars
When a pair of young archaeologists discover a stone chest that contains strange objects anomalous to ancient Egypt they know they have found something big. Alex and Mitch must research these startling find and do it before their greedy boss takes all the credit. Jump back 12,000 years to the unusual peoples who once owned this relic and you have Secret of the Sands, a pair of stories about ancient Egypt and modern archaeology filled with family drama, double-crossing relatives, secret alliances and a power that can destroy cities.
Any book that makes an early reference to Indiana Jones and then gives a shout out to Star Wars just pages later can usually win me over but I had a difficult time with Soul and Shadow. The premise is interesting and the stakes are high but as we flip back and forth between present day and the ancient times, this wordy book became a mishmash of simple characters short on description and back-story, and heavily melodramatic. Two characters and friends of our heroes, Jack and Bob, are nearly indistinguishable except that one drinks Coke and the other drinks Diet Coke. Even then it is hard to remember who prefers which.
The Egyptian family saga set in the year 10,000 BC moves too quickly to develop any dramatic tension. In the span of five pages, three years pass and a few chapters later, four more years have elapsed. Yet the relationship pick up where they’ve left off and no one has really changed. Perhaps the biggest opportunity of the book is the dialogue which is quite juvenile and almost completely unbelievable. People just don’t talk like this! I’m not sure if the language is accurate for the time…did the ancient Egyptians – or whoever they are – really use greetings like Mommy and Daddy?
The most interesting character is Zazmaria, a conflicted princess whose loyalty shifts back and forth between a pair of warring families. She was complicated and sympathetic but a story set 12,000 years ago felt very contemporary. At one point someone lit a match. Later on, someone pours a glass of water. Did these things exist back then? My research told me the first matches appeared around 500 AD.
I never felt like I was in ancient Egypt. I needed a sense of their culture. What did they do for fun? What kinds of food did they eat? After one character dies the body was “prepared according to Kierani custom” but what exactly is this custom? By the end of the book, I didn’t know any more about Egypt than I did when I started and this was the book’s biggest disappointment.
Too many questions were left unanswered and the plot is left unresolved and even sets the reader up for a sequel. Despite the criticism, and I know I’ve been generous with it, the book did reignite my interest in ancient Egypt and send me to the Internet in search of photographs of the Great Sphinx and the pyramids. I had always wanted to go to Egypt, and I remember that I still do.
Strengths: solid structure, interesting premise, mysterious
Opportunities: lengthy, with implausible dialogue
Will appeal to: juvenile readers, fans of Egyptology, family saga enthusiasts
Secret of the Sands is available on amazon.
Visit the authors’ website here.
Reviewed by Mark McGinty, July 2009