Action thrillers based in ancient history and complicated prophecy have been especially popular since The Da Vinci Code. The premise for Javier Sierra’s The Lost Angel intrigued me, and I looked forward to reading it. “Cutting-edge science, ancient mysteries and timeless magic . . .” A former National Security Agency agent is kidnapped by an obscure band of terrorists/cultists. Everyone assumes they are bent on global destruction, but they may have a unique agenda. The NSA and every other alphabet-soup agency, up to the office of the President, wants the agent back. A coded message to his wife, Julia Álvarez, holds to key to his whereabouts and those of a stone that holds great power. While Julia is being questioned by a U.S. agent, she is kidnapped by a powerful and persuasive man who claims to be her husband’s friend. He may be. Whether he is also Julia’s remains to be seen.
When reading this type of novel, one expects a multitude of characters, intercontinental settings, several points of view, dastardly conspiracies, action and thrills. You settle in and hold on for the ride. The Lost Angel delivers some of those elements, but the action scenes are so muffled in talk, talk, talk, talk, talk I had a hard time staying awake until the thrills showed up.
Part of the problem with basing a novel on ancient history is there’s so much history to sift. In general the authors of such books want to infuse their work with facts, names, places, and events everyone will recognize. They want to show how plausible are their interpretations of the evidence. And sometimes they get so caught up in doing that they end up forgetting the basics of fiction. Sierra’s characters spend chapter after chapter asking questions and giving answers just so readers can catch up with the research the author spent years accumulating, a case of the novel serving the research instead of the research serving the novel. I was sorry to see Sierra fall so deeply into that trap.
The Q&A style not only made me groan, I also found it laughable in places. The characters are running for their lives after a horrific attack that’s killed one of their comrades and several attackers. Julia asks none of the following logical questions: “Who were those people trying to kill us?? Why were they trying to kill us? Do you think we lost them? What are we going to tell our fallen comrade’s family? Where are we going? Do you think they’ll find us? CAN WE RUN ANY FASTER??!!”
No. In effect, she asked: “What’s that tablet you were talking about earlier? Show it to me. Doesn’t look like much, does it? Never mind those people trying to kill us. Let’s stop here in the open to talk about it and Moses and Noah and the archangel Uriel, and, by the way, would you describe yourself as a religious fanatic or a scientist?”
One character holds at gunpoint a man who’s just stolen a priceless, incredibly powerful artifact. Does the guy with the gun say, “Hands up! Give me that artifact right now, or I’ll blow your head off!” No, no. He gives the thief a history of Armenia.
Unfortunately, I could go on and on. The point is there were some good scenes here, when the characters acted instead of lectured. I was interested in how the novel resolved. But Sierra made hard awfully work of getting to the resolution.