As the first in a series of Archaeology in Fiction (#ArteFict) I’m going to be diving straight in with Boyd Morrison’s The Noah’s Ark Quest (yes really). For anyone reading in the US, it’s just called The Ark across the pond, and the front cover there much better portrays what the book is about. If I’m honest, I probably wouldn’t have picked the book up if it had had the US cover – I suppose that people in the UK are suckers for relics.
The plot (spoilers?!)
The blurb (and, indeed, the UK front cover) would have you believe that the majority of the book follows the protagonists tracking down the archaeological ‘remains’ of Noah’s Ark before bad guys do to secure some sort of relic. We soon learn in the book that the relic (slight spoilers) turns out to be a bioweapon capable of wiping out all life on earth. Archaeological intrigue is particularly thin on the ground from the offset as the bad guy has already a sample of the weapon and is planning to set it off to destroy all of humanity. This leads to a veritable flood of admittedly quite fun gun fights, car/motorbike chases, special ops missions, military banter and suddenly revealed convenient specialist skills. Unsurprisingly the action eventually culminates in our protagonists securing and destroying the main weapon, but it’s not all plain sailing as the bad guys escape. The remainder of the book is then spent as I thought the majority of the book would be – a race to find the remains of the original Ark and the last sample of the bioweapon.
The good guys
The main character of the series is the tall, dark, rugged former army engineer Dr. Tyler Locke. Tyler is quickly established as being clever, alert, fit and above all good at blowing stuff up (or stopping it from blowing up), and whilst he does have a bit of a tragic backstory he’s a little too perfect for a book this length. He’s Mr. Dependable, who always works it out and saves the day.
Tyler goes nowhere without his faithful sidekick, ex-wrestler, fellow former soldier and comedy relief Grant “The Burn” Westfield. Whatever Tyler does, Grant does it faster and with more dynamite. It’s also OK for Grant to insinuate and wink a lot when Tyler is talking to women so that Tyler avoids looking like a cad but the reader is kept up to date with who is hot. Grant even has a freaking catchphrase from his wrestling days that, you guessed it, he does once use when killing a bad guy – “Feel the burn, asshole”.
Our main female character in The Noah’s Ark Quest is Dilara Kenner, a PhD Archaeologist (more specifically, bioarchaeologist*) and resident love interest for hunky Tyler. By page two of her first chapter super-hot Dilara is being inappropriately ogled by passers-by in an airport, and we later find out that her name means lover (seriously). Dilara’s character goes through some serious emotional trauma before we’ve even really begun the story; by the time she meets Tyler and gratefully hands over the role of main character she’s managed to avoid multiple assassination attempts in some way related to her missing-presumed-dead archaeologist father. She remains in danger for most of the book, her role sadly quickly reduced to the person Tyler has to save until the plot accidentally wades into some archaeology in its last few chapters.
The bad guys
While named-grunts come and go the main bad guys form a trio, exactly as our protagonists do. There’s Sebastian Ulric, who is the mastermind of the whole evil plan. He is accompanied by his girlfriend/assistant/assassin (?), the backstoryless wonder Svetlana Petrova and Dan “Chainsaw” Cutter who has military beef from days gone by with Grant “The Burn” Westfield. As you might guess, just like the first Pokemon movie, these ‘evil’ versions end up in a pretty intense death match with their ‘good’ counterparts – unfortunately for us, this death match is held inside the remains of Noah’s Ark, but at least there’s two of every animal.
Trying to not give too much away for all of you eager to go to charity shops and ‘make it rain’, the final 5% of the story is focussed on finding the remains of ‘the original’ Noah’s Ark to retrieve/destroy the bioweapon within. Team Locke first visit an ancient monastery and find a hidden door, courtesy of clues left by Dilara’s father, which leads to a secret chamber containing the location of Noah’s Ark (and Dilara’s father, very much dead. Dilara can probably tell this because she’s a bioarchaeologist). Team Locke gather a team of nameless military redshirts and head to the mountain suggested on the map.
When they get to the location (keeping it vague) they find that one of the cave entrances has been used as a store for dynamite by Kurdish freedom fighters or something. Grant and Tyler have a lengthy conversation about how the conditions in this cave are not exactly shipshape and have caused the explosives to degrade and become VERY VOLATILE like they COULD EXPLODE. Alright guys, thanks, glad you got past that and I’m sure that won’t come back later in the plot.
When they make it inside Dilara makes use of her newly acquired significance and assumes the role of nagger and party pooper, clearly distressed about the potential loss to archaeological research through their search for the last fragment of the bioweapon. Even good guy Tyler is a bit dismissive of her concerns but tells them all (Grant, we’re looking at you) not to touch anything.
“This goes against everything I’ve ever learned or preached about archaeological discovery. We should be doing a methodical, inch-by-inch study, not rifling through it like treasure hunters” Dilara (p. 509).
We follow Tyler’s search for the amulet (presumably because he’ll know/care less about the actual archaeology than Dilara) through pristinely preserved stocked storage rooms, refuse areas and animal pens but he finds “nothing of significance”. Meanwhile Grant and Dilara have found more artefacts and a weapons store, but all of this boring stuff pales in comparison to the GIANT ROOM OF TREASURE that Tyler has stumbled upon. But oh no! The bad guys have turned up and it’s showdown time, which can only mean bad things for the pristine archaeology as grenades are not usually in our excavation toolkit. However, I was pleasantly surprised at the only minor destruction, which culminates in our friend the volatile dynamite effectively sealing the site. It is strongly pressed that Dilara will be able to come back and claim the glo- urh, I mean excavate- later.
“I’m an engineer, not an archaeologist. I’ll leave the glamour stuff up to you.” Tyler to Dilara (p. 447).
It’s very easy to sit safely behind a computer screen and tear years of someone’s work apart just because your profession is mentioned in it, so I will begin by saying that I really enjoyed parts of this book very much, especially the climax. Still, I must admit that in general I felt a little deceived by the blurb and short-changed on archaeology. I think I also made a mistake in reading The Midas Code (book number 2 in the Tyler Locke series) first, where archaeology and classical literature are more intrinsic to the plot. It also meant that by the time I got around to reading The Noah’s Ark Quest I was soon tired of Tyler’s watertight dependability and Grant’s slightly ridiculous personality, which were novelties and often quite funny the first time around.
Dilara had potential to be a strong character and there’s nothing really wrong with her – she certainly has her moments where she is determined, resourceful and self-sufficient – but they’re mainly to move the plot along and to provide some sexual tension between her and Tyler. Unfortunately for Dilara any advances made during The Noah’s Ark Quest are ultimately fruitless, as there’s a new archaeologist/classicist babe on the scene in The Midas Code (and she’s kind of better…), reviewed soon by Matt Knight. Ah well, plenty more fish in the sea, Dilara.
So, I think my conclusion is – if you’re an archaeologist and want to read a Boyd Morrison fictitious thriller with archaeological leanings, take the plunge with The Midas Code. The Noah’s Ark Quest will leave you a little high and dry where archaeology is concerned. As a thriller about a bioweapon that could wipe out mankind it does perform better, if that floats your boat.
The Noah’s Ark Quest by Boyd Morrison, published in 2010 by Sphere.
Book Rating: 3/5 – The book is a good thriller that goes on long enough for its patterns to be repetitive, predictable and a little dull.
Archaeology Rating: 2/5 – Proof you should never judge a book by its cover and blurb, the good archaeology bits in this book were too few and far between for a higher score.
Archaeologist Rating: 3/5 – While she doesn’t have that much of a character, Dilara does have mostly believable archaeological expertise and is suitably worried about preserving ancient stuff.
BONUS Bad ship puns in this review: ~10
*unfortunately for those who are bioarchaeologically inclined, Dilara being a bioarchaeologist is never mentioned again – perhaps the one time in this book where something does not feature heavily in the later plot of the book.