Lolly's Library (Dork Kettle)'s Reviews > Mark of the Lion

Mark of the Lion by Suzanne Arruda
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's review
Jan 09, 2011

it was ok
bookshelves: historical-mys-suspense, part-of-a-series
Read from December 18 to 22, 2010

I admit, I went into this book with preconceptions, which probably increased my disappointment with it. Being such a huge fan of Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody series as I am, a series concerning the exploits of an adventurous Victorian woman, I had been on the lookout for another similarly-themed book or series. When I saw Arruda's book, I was excited, thinking I'd found an Amelia Peabody stand-in for those long lags between Peters' book publications. After all, it's a story of a bold American woman, Jade de Cameron, a former ambulance driver on the French front lines during WWI, who undertakes the fulfillment of a dying man's last wish, a quest which takes her to the wilds of East Africa and into the heart of darkness (ooh, such a cliché, but I had to use it).

The concept is great and sounds wonderfully exciting, but the actual execution is disappointing. After the initial chapters set on the French battlefields, full of explosions and near-misses and heart-pounding action, the excitement quickly drops off and the story dissolves into a weak mystery (in which the perpetrator is quickly identified by any astute reader, leaving us to suffer through many more pointless chapters of characters running around like chickens with their heads cut off as they try to solve the murders, poorly-done "red herrings," and unnecessary breaks in the story to allow brief babbling excerpts from the villain's P.O.V., a feature which does nothing to enhance the narrative). As we wait for the mystery to be (finally) resolved, we're treated to what basically amounts to a travelogue of East Africa in the 1920's with a bland quasi-romance thrown in for good measure.

Halfway through the book, with my patience worn thin and the culprit already figured out a few chapters back, I couldn't help thinking that if this were a tale of Amelia Peabody, she would've already gotten into a scuffle with some minor miscreants, been kidnapped by the Master Criminal, escaped, figured out what treasure had inspired the M.C.'s interest, and been on her way to grabbing it first, as well as had a loving quarrel or two (with the requisite romantic making-up afterwards) with Emerson (who would've been knocked on the head at least once already) and (depending on his age at the time of the story) corralled/rescued/disentangled Ramses from some sort of perilous situation. In comparison, Arruda's story had barely gotten off the ground. And while the landscapes of Africa are lovingly and lavishly detailed (the aspect in which Arruda's writing talent shines), narratives rich enough that you can hear the cough of lions in the sunset-shadowed savanna, the laugh of hyenas on the prowl in the inky night, passages where you can almost smell the earth baking under the noon sun and hear the crisp grass bending in the breeze, it almost clashes with the flatness of writing when it comes to the rest of the novel. The characters are 2-D and uninspiring, with no real purpose other than to orbit Jade and provide motives for her movements. Jade herself is rather jarring, her independent spirit coming off at times as heavy-handed and anachronistic. Again, to compare (probably unfairly), while Amelia Peabody is feisty, independent and bold, those traits are always with the context of the times in which she was born and raised and lives. So while she'll wear Bloomer's bloomers and defy certain conventions when and how they become cumbersome to her, to other rituals and mores she'll adhere fiercely and become quite shocked at the idea of doing otherwise. Jade comes off more as a woman of the 21st century plonked down in the 1920s: there's no obvious chafing from her at the constraints against women of that period, no indication that she's of her time yet slightly ahead of her time, no evidence that her independence costs her anything either socially or emotionally. She's bold and everyone simply accepts that, attributing her independence to the fact that she's American and just doesn't "get" the social niceties of the society around her, a cop out that doesn't sit well with me.

I won't say this is a bad book, but I will say, in order to finish it because I was so bored, I skimmed over the last third. Otherwise, I don't think I'd been able to force myself to slog through and finish the book in a normal fashion. With a plodding storyline and a lackluster plot, I fear this book has little to recommend it. It's possible the succeeding books in the series improve, however I doubt I'll give them a try to find out.
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Reading Progress

12/18/2010 page 61
12/20/2010 page 131
39.0% "It's good, but it seems to be missing that spark, that 'oomph' which makes a book a rip-roaring read. The story seems to be moving awfully slow."
12/21/2010 page 217
64.0% "God, I feel like I'm running in place while standing in thick mud: Expending a lot of effort (not to mention some grunting and groaning) and not moving a damn inch. Where the hell is the action? Arruda's taken a decent plot and sucked all the life out of it."

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