“MAY THE HAZEL BRING YOU WISDOM AND THE ASPEN GUIDE AND PROTECT YOU…”
Samantha Knox put away her childish fantasies of archaeological adventure the day her father didn’t return home from the Great War, retreating to the safety of the antique bookshop where she works. But when a mysterious package arrives with a damaged diary inside, Sam’s peaceful life is obliterated. Ruthless men intent on reclaiming the diary are after Sam, setting her and her best friend, along with her childhood crush, on a high-stakes adventure that lands them in the green hills outside Dublin, Ireland. Here they discover an ancient order with a dark purpose – to perform an occult ritual that will raise the Specter Queen, the Celtic goddess of vengeance and death, to bring about a war unlike any the world has ever seen. To stop them, Sam must solve a deviously complex cipher – one that will lead her on a treasure hunt to discover the ancient relic at the heart of the ritual: a bowl carved from the tree of life. Will she find the bowl and stop the curse of the Specter Queen, or will the ancient order bring about the end of the world?
Indiana Jones gets a refresh with this female-driven mystery adventure, set in the 1920s, full of ciphers, ancient relics, and heart-stopping action – the first in a brand-new series!
Curse of the Specter Queen can be described extremely simplistically as a fun read. I love, and actually recently watched, Brendan Fraser’s version of The Mummy, so I was in the perfect mood to read this story as it has very similar entertainment vibe. The novel is described as a mix of The Mummy, Indiana Jones, and National Treasure and it definitely fits the tale. The story also does a great job of making the reader understand that it is set in the 1920s without explicitly stated in the chapters. The characters, their interactions, and the general setting fit the time-period very well. As this is most likely going to be a series, I cannot wait to see where the author takes it, as I will gladly read every novel.
The story centers on Samantha (“Sam”) Knox, who works at the Steeling’s bookshop where she repairs antique books. She loved puzzles and dreamed of being a treasure hunter/archeologist when she was a child. Her dreams were shattered after learning her father died as a soldier in the Great War and she began distancing herself from everything and everyone. One day she receives a mysterious book that leads her to reuniting with the Steeling siblings and an
Bennett Steeling is Sam’s crush since childhood and although he has always been there for Sam, he has never revealed any romantic feelings. He acts as the protector of Sam and Jo on their adventure, which can appear controlling at times, but also seemed to fit characteristics of the time-period. He shared Sam’s love of puzzles and treasure hunting, so it was very entertaining to read the two of them trying to figure out the many puzzles along the way.
Joana (“Jo”) Steeling is the estranged best friend of Sam and Bennett’s younger sister. Sam and her had a falling out shortly after the death of Sam’s father, but that never stopped her caring for Sam and wanting to be close again. As the three of them become entangled in the adventure, Jo and Sam try to work through their past to hopefully fix their relationship for a brighter future. Jo’s character may not be the same puzzle-solving type as Bennett or Sam, but she brings her own resourcefulness to the story. She provides a nice balance to Bennett and Sam.
The plot centers on a mysterious diary containing a 200-year-old letter that can lead to the awakening of the Specter Queen. Her “tomb” is just outside Dublin, Ireland, where the characters must travel in order to save the world. Starting in Clement, Illinois (a small town outside of Chicago), the journey leads first to Chicago, then New York, followed by Ireland. Along the way they face many dangers and meet some new characters that may be friend or foe as they try to locate the mysterious relic mentioned in the diary. There are twists in this story that were either predictable or hinted at, but I did not mind, as I was happy enough to continue reading their entertaining adventure. Others might want more “shock” in some of the twists, but, for me, it worked well in the story.
There is a slight campiness to the overall feel of the story without actually being campy and I loved that it was somehow still light-hearted even though there were many serious moments. While the pacing towards the end felt too fast at times, it did add to the urgency of the situation the characters were in at the time. While reading each part, the reader is essentially placed in the character’s minds where there is a sense of urgency and one event leads immediately to the next with no time to process everything. I am not sure if this was intentional, but it is how my mind interpreted the pacing choices.
Overall, this story delivers what was promised which was a fun adventure fitting of inspiration from multiple adventure media. Although I did not fully bond with the characters, there is enough there that I can see getting to know them more in the next novel in the series. I loved that the story took place in Ireland instead of using Egypt or another location typically used in these stories as it gave it a unique spin. The novel was captivating and entertaining, as I did not want to put it down. Although a part of a series, this novel could be read as a standalone. For me, I cannot wait for more novels in this series to be released, as I loved the adventure and mystery.
**I want to give a special thank you to Netgalley and the publisher, Disney-Hyperion (Disney Publishing Worldwide), for a review copy of this entertaining novel. The opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.**