Title: Curse of the Specter Queen
Author: Jenny Elder Moke
Genre: YA, Adventure, Mythology
Published: June 1st, 2021 (Disney-Hyperion)
Synopsis: 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!
Thank you to the publisher, Disney-Hyperion, and NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Samantha Knox works at an antique bookstore, burying away her dreams of going on archaeological adventures after her father died in the war. One day, Sam receives a package with a mysterious diary, but before she can investigate it further, the shop is attacked by people who are willing to go to any lengths to get their hands on the book. With her childhood best friends, Joana and Bennett Steeling, Sam flees her small town, finding herself on the road to New York and on to Ireland as they unravel ciphers and clues that seem to point the way to a Celtic artifact. It’s a race against time to find the relic before their unknown enemies get to it and bring about the end of the world by invoking an ancient curse.
A reimagining of Indiana Jones really is the perfect way to describe this book! Celtic mythology is not a subject I’m familiar with, so this was certainly an interesting introduction. The ciphers were fun to follow along with and though I didn’t have much context, the engaging style of the narration made it easy to enjoy. I love that this book was set in the 1920s and not modern day as it added to the Indiana Jones feel of the entire thing. The historical aspects of this book were quite well done, and it all felt very authentic. I was particularly impressed by how the author managed to portray two such strong female characters in Joana and Sam even given the backward societal norms for women at the time.
While the breakneck pace of the adventure doesn’t leave too much time to get to know the characters, Sam, Jo and Bennett were all great protagonists and I’m looking forward to seeing more of them. Sam and Jo’s friendship of such polar opposites was great, even if Jo’s more exuberant personality seemed to overshadow the much quieter Sam a lot. Sam was a little hard to like at first and it wasn’t until the story started giving us more insight into her thoughts and state of mind that I started to connect with her character.
The only thing I felt could have been done better was the actual treasure hunt portion where Sam and Bennett are putting together and following the sequence of clues. That portion went by way too fast, and as a reader who has neither enough context about Celtic mythology nor the faintest idea of what the historic center of Dublin looks like, it was mostly a blur for me and I didn’t find it as much fun as I would have had things been explained a bit more.
As for the ending, I didn’t manage to figure out the villain until well past the 60% mark, so that’s a plus in my book, and the climax sequence was quite dramatic and well written. The epilogue was a nice touch too, though I would have also loved to see what exactly happened when the trio returned home rather than skipping to a few months ahead. Overall, however, this was an exciting adventure and an extremely enjoyable read. I’m really excited that this is going to be a series and can’t wait to see what the next book will be about. Highly recommended!
Curse of the Specter Queen releases on June 1st, 2021.
Do you plan to read this book? Let me know in the comments below!
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