With the coming and going of Memorial Day and the unofficial start of summer, you’re going to need something in the way of summer reading that’s not too much in the way of mind fluff — clever escapist fare that provides some diverting escapades and close escapes. If you’re in for some paperback-flapping action adventure that’ll constitute some archeological-themed supplemental reading to any Indiana Jones blockbusters that may happen to be at a theater near you, or that will bring on the fear factor of sharks and a tsunami when you’re at the beach, then Serpent’s Kiss is it.
And if classic understatements by the protagonist is any indication — “I’m not you’re average academic” — then the tenth book in Alex Archer’s Rogue Angel series rumbles and combusts, working either as another solid entry in the series or as a multi-layered stand-alone thriller. Even the bad guys work as archetypal moustache-twirlers or can be seen to spew their own skewed brand of family values.
Annja Creed, archeologist and reluctant television co-host of Chasing History's Monsters, is on a dig in India at a burial pit of the Shakti, a culture keen on human sacrifices. Just when Annja and her team are able to delve too deeply, however, a tsunami strikes, burying the site and nearly killing Annja and her team. But the wave also exposes an ancient shipwreck and stirs up early relics — including nagas, figures one part human and one part snake — from the ocean’s depths.
Modern-day pirates, however, flourish in the Indian Ocean and set their sights on Anna’s find. One of these buccaneer-do-well types takes a special interest when he hears about the naga discovery, believing that this and other finds may be clues that lead to a family claim of a fantastically rich secret city hidden in the interior of India.
As if this were not enough: cue the bandits, sharks, and cannibals! After all, Annja has a secret weapon — Joan of Arc's mythical sword (don’t worry, Archer fills you in on the “previously on ‘Rogue Angel’” whys and wherefores) — and some secret and more modern state of the art weaponry and military back-up. That is, if they can get to where they need to be on time.
Meanwhile, as each twist and turn seems to have its own twist and turn, Archer adds scholarly and investigative touches to the balancing act. Or at least ones that start out for Annja that way, as strict science and cultural outlooks take on speculative casts of ancient legend and myth.
A main frame of mind that spans from first chapter to last concerns the archeological significance of the relics. There’s an awful lot of non-academic clamor for a piece of the action, with thieves racing in to intervene, and a whole lot of talk about an ancient curse of the nagas in the air. In addition, a relic with writing in an unknown language allures with its allusion to a lost culture, leading to another exciting cliffhanger…
It’s the same kind of heady and heart-pounding allurement the author uses to keep the reader hooked on the Rogue Angel series. Not only is Serpent’s Kiss fully engaged with an abundantly-considered and gripping storyline and subplots, but it’s also all-inclusive with the characterizations – even the secondary figures get filled-in depictions. There are no clichéd cardboard characters here.
Besides, you'll want to start off your summer reading with the right people.