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Book Review: Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire by Dan Hanks

Title: Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire

Author: Dan Hanks

Publisher: Angry Robot

Publication Date: Sept 8, 2020

Genres: Adventure, Science Fiction

Shelves: Female-fronted

Take the pulp adventures of Indiana Jones, add in some Stargate sci-fi flourishes, put a kickass woman at the forefront, and you’ve got Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire. It’s everything you’d expect of the concept, a thoroughly engaging roller coaster of a ride, but one distinguished by surprising cynicism and moral quandaries.

For a debut novelist, Dan Hanks has the imagination, narrative style, and storytelling prowess of somehow far more well-established. There was nary an awkward moment or questionable passage in the read. If I’d have picked this blindly off a shelf, I’d be wondering what else he’s written, and be immediately looking to catch up on his back catalog. Instead, with an uncomfortably dark, chilling cliff-hanger, all I can do is look forward and wait for the sequel.

On the surface, this is pure pulp, popcorn archaeology. It’s a story that’s full of mysterious artifacts, ancient legends, mind-bending puzzles, and elaborate traps. There are breathtaking moments and death-defying escapes aplenty, especially with the catacombs beneath Paris and the twin Egyptian passages of the climax. Beneath all the fun and frantic pacing, however, there’s some earnest discussion about the moral quandaries of ‘discovering’ artifacts, appropriating the heritage of other cultures, and the need to preserve history. There’s some definite looting and destruction of historical property here, but the characters are aware of that and even troubled by it. That stood out for me.

As for the characters, the reversal of gender roles and gender expectations was a big part of what drew me to the story in the first place. Sam and Jess are in charge . . . they’re at the forefront . . . they’re the driving personalities behind the stories. Teddy and Will are the sidekicks, there to support them and, on more than one occasion, get saved by them. Even Jack, the villainous ex-lover, is more troubled by their past relationship than Sam is, repeatedly putting his team at risk because he can’t rationalize the danger she represents. As for that danger, Sam endures more, suffers more, and survives more than any male action hero I can think of. She’s unstoppable, but also uniquely vulnerable in that she’d walk away from the fame and the glory just to save her family.

Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire was absolutely everything I wanted it to be – and more. The cynicism was a bit of a surprise, and that ending still makes me feel sort of nauseous with dread, but I love that it was bigger and more significant than just a treasure hunt. Highly recommended!

Rating: ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀ 1/2

My sincere thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review.

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