Just a little over two years ago, I reviewed a copy of Jordan Jacobs’ debut novel, a book about a daring preteen in love with archaeology: Samantha Sutton and The Labyrinth of Lies. Her first adventure begins when “Sam” gets to spend her summer break on an excavation in Peru with her Uncle Jay, an archaeologist. The book is a nicely balanced mystery/adventure story with plenty of accurate—and engaging—information about the site of Chavín de Huántar, and it also deals with the difficult issues of looting, antiquities smuggling, and the treatment of human remains for young adult readers as Sam navigates a new culture and language.
When the second book, Samantha Sutton and the Winter of the Warrior Queen, was published last year, I read it with a sense of anticipation if not a little extra scrutiny—the book was set in Cambridge, England, an alma mater of both Jacobs and myself. This time, Sam has to adjust to a very different cultural situation, as well as solve a dangerous mystery. This book felt a bit darker than the last, and once again hit on some of the big issues in British archaeology, that of metal detectoring and the Portable Antiquities Act, while weaving in details of Britain’s prehistory and Roman legacy.
The long-awaited third book in the series, Samantha Sutton and the Temple of Traitors, is due out within the next couple of months. I was excited to to review a proof copy. This time, Sam is a little older and wiser, but despite the mishaps of her two previous adventures, cannot resist the opportunity to travel to another famous archaeological site, although she doesn’t know exactly where she is headed as her journey begins. Once she arrives in Cambodia, she realizes that her Uncle Jay is taking her to the legendary city of Angkor Wat. As in the previous books, Jacobs subtly teaches the reader about archaeological methodology, this time the application of LiDAR in archaeological mapping, while Sam comes face-to-face with some difficult topics and situations. Among these are the political nature of archaeological sites, the effect of war on both people and cultural heritage, and the portrayal of archaeology in video games and movies.
Young readers will enjoy the mystery and suspense that accompany Sam’s adventures, and identify with the tension that comes along with that in-between feeling of turning thirteen. Adults will appreciate Sam’s character and growth throughout the series: she is resourceful, smart, and brave, with a strong moral compass—not to mention she always does her research! And any adventure-loving archaeologist who reads the books would probably agree that Jacobs does a great job of including the realities of fieldwork, the complicated nature of cultural heritage, and the representation of archaeology in popular culture in his stories.
It just so happens that November is NaNoWriMo-National Novel Writing Month. And since we love fictional trowelblazers as well as real ones, we decided (with the help of author Jordan Jacobs and the books’ publishers, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky) to host a little giveaway in the spirit of the month. We’re giving away two sets of the first two books, Samantha Sutton and the Labyrinth of Lies and Samantha Sutton and the Winter of the Warrior Queen. As for the third, you’ll just have to wait until it’s published…
What we want to know is: who is your favorite adventure-loving, butt-kicking, (preferably #trowelblazing!) fictional heroine? Let us know in the comments below, tweet at us using the hashtag #SamanthaSutton, or post on our Facebook page to enter. We’ll accept responses throughout the month and announce the winners (chosen via random generator) on 1 December. Happy reading and writing!
Reviewed by Suzie