Jack Howard is an underwater archaeologist working in the Mediterranean who has just made the discovery of his life – a Minoan shipwreck and a gold disk with strange markings. At the same time a colleague in Egypt finds a scrap of scroll with early Greek writing in a mummy’s wrappings. Together the two finds yield up clues to an even bigger find…the location of the lost city of Atlantis. Accompanied by cadre of experts Jack heads towards the Black Sea and a mystery thousands of years old.
Atlantis is an archaeological thriller and it sticks closely to the tropes of that genre. The action moves from Crete to Alexandria to the Black Sea. The protagonist is an expert in his field hiding a secret (in Jack’s case claustrophobia as a result of a botched dive). The love interest is beautiful, exotic, an expert in her own right, and has her own secrets. The search for the truth is like a treasure hunt across the face of the Earth and each new clue brings more questions.
Gibbins definitely knows his tropes and the pacing needed for a thriller. Unfortunately his execution leaves something to be desired. The detail of the underwater archaeological techniques, the use of high-tech equipment, the historical significance of the finds – all of these are done in exquisite detail. And that is the problem. Too much of the story is taken up with the author giving detailed descriptions of things like guns, lasers, submersibles as well as lectures on archaeological finds from the Neolithic Period, from Minoan Create, etc. There is too much telling rather than showing.
My biggest complaints about this book:
1. The extensive detail about, well, everything was meant to deepen the experience for the reader. Instead it was jarring and kept pulling me out of the narrative.
2. I didn’t feel emotionally attached to any of the characters. They felt more like stereotypes than real people: the handsome hero; the love interest; the best friend/gadget guy; the terrorist bad guy.
3. Plus the characters are never clueless about anything. They know how to do everything and can get out of every situation. By the time I was a third of the way through the book I knew that I would never hit a scene where the characters had to try different solutions to figure something out. They would never be stymied by what they found. Every inscription could be translated, every obstacle overcome.
What I liked:
1. The archaeology. Gibbins is an underwater archaeologist and this book really shows how well he knows his stuff, both on land and at sea.
2. The way the author tied what we know from the archaeological record to his fictional finds and Atlantis was superb. It was done so seamlessly that I more than once I almost went to the computer to do research, sure I’d missed reports of some recent find. Reading the Author’s Notes I was able to see just how much was real and how much was fiction.
In the end I’m glad I read the book because of the ancient history content (what can I say, I’m a history geek) but I doubt I’ll make any effort to read any more of this author’s work. There are too many books out there waiting to be read to waste my time on ones that I only partially enjoy.