Author: Robyn Nyx
Publisher: Bold Strokes Books
Publication Date: December 10, 2019
Shelves: Female-author, female-fronted
Book blurbs can be dangerous things, often teasing or exaggerating the aspects of a story that drew you to the book in the first place. You anxiously crack the spine, expecting a character or a theme to dominate the narrative, only to find they’re a small part of something almost completely different. This is especially true of adventure novels where the actual adventure – call it archaeology or tomb-raiding – is little more than window dressing for a contemporary thriller that’s reluctant to get its hands dirty.
Every once in awhile, though, you find that perfect book that delivers exactly what you expected, in exactly the manner you hoped – and that book is Uncharted. Seriously, I went into this with unrealistically high hopes, knowing that there was a romance to deliver on here as well, and somehow Robyn Nyx still went over-and-above. Hands down, this may be the most fun I’ve had between the covers of a book all year.
Before I get to the adventure, however, I have to talk about Rayne Marcellus (tomb-raider) and Chase Stinsen (serious archaeologist), ex-lovers turned bitter rivals who actually make the old enemies-turned-lovers trope work. First of all, they are both fully-developed characters with a shared backstory, motivations to which the reader can relate, and their own distinct, likable charm. I liked the way they sort of played against and flipped the typical butch/femme stereotypes, and how they were both aware of doing it. Along with Gin and Tonyck, the twin mercenaries who slowly come to respect Chase as much as their boss, these are kick-ass women who we have no trouble believing capable of taking on even the darkest, most violent aspects of the adventure.
As for Rayne and Chase’s relationship, there was not a single moment of their interactions that felt tedious or forced, not a single aspect of their movement through fighting, flirting, resisting, and romancing that didn’t ring true. Nyx made me believe that they belonged together, and had me cheering for their romance as strongly as I was their search for lost treasure. There’s so much passion and intensity there, so much sexual energy in a simple kiss or caress, that even the other characters aren’t immune to a little voyeuristic excitement.
Now, getting back to my complaint about actual adventure and archaeology within the genre, Uncharted starts and ends with tomb-raiding adventure, explores a third excavation in between that is both significant and pivotal, and incorporates an extended jungle adventure along the way, complete with bugs, snakes, Mayans, and more. This just doesn’t pay lip service to the adventure, it’s almost entirely an off-the-grid, in-the-wild, underground adventure. Yes, it is mostly x-marks-the-spot fantasy, driven by an ingenious treasure map and series of clues to the final puzzle, but there is enough genuine archaeology to make the fantasy feel real – and as a tomb-raiding adventure fantasy, this is fantastic!
Perhaps even more notable, and certainly of more interest for me, the entire adventure is female-driven and female-focused. Chase’s driving passion, the quest that leads her to the pivotal confrontation with Rayne, is the discovery of Queen Zenobia’s tomb. She hopes to find evidence that supports her as a feminist icon who died a hero, a fact that will erase the Roman lies of her submissive fate. Deep in the jungle, it is a matriarchal tribe that they encounter, with three old women who respect Rayne and Chase as sisters (or perhaps daughters), and who trust them to stand against the men who seek to befoul the treasure. As for that treasure, the MacGuffin of the Golden Trinity, without saying too much, it is intimately connected to female power and the feminine divine. What it is and what it stands for should not be a huge surprise to anybody paying attention, especially if they’re fans of the genre, but that doesn’t make it any less powerful.
And all of this is presented against the backdrop of terrorism, war, deforestation, and other crimes of men against both humanity and nature. No safe, often cheesy, portrayals of old-school Nazis or Soviet Communists here, Nyx plucks her villains from the here and now, and reminds us of what Rayne and Chase are fighting against as well as for.
Well-written, with engaging characters, action-packed adventure, sexual chemistry that’s off the charts, and a feminist mythology that is far more fascinating than the typical overdone Biblical nonsense, Uncharted was not just everything I hoped it might be, it was far more. Seriously, it has all the flash and fun of Lara Croft, Sydney Fox, Annja Creed, or Amelia Peabody, but with far more substance. I really hope this isn’t the last we see of Rayne & Chase, because I desperately need more.
Rating: ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀
My sincere thanks to the publisher for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.