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Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center

Skaar: A Novel of Archaeology, Revolution and Betrayal by Rowland Reeve

December 1, 2017

e-book (2016)

Rowland Reeve, a writer and archaeologist, has published a wonderfully old-fashioned rollicking tale of adventure.  Channeling a bit of Robert Louis Stevenson and C.S. Forester, he has created a heroine in Cyrilia (Lia) Hathaway who is not unlike the intrepid Amelia Peabody conceived by Elizabeth Peters (Barbara Mertz) and launched her on an almost picaresque quest for a secret hidden deep in the jungles of early 20th Century Honduras.  Accompanying her on this journey of discovery are three equally captivating characters:  Lt. Arthur William Rigby, a dashing, heroic, yet slightly dim-witted British soldier assigned to “protect” Lia on her expedition; Haskel, an ex-Pinkerton detective hired to organize her journey into the bush; and the mysterious and eponymous Skaar, hired to guide this little band to the ancient site of Copan, the capital of a major Mayan Classic period kingdom from the 5th to 9th centuries AD in western Honduras.

Orphaned at a very young age, Lia was reared by her paternal grandfather, Sir Cyril Hathaway, a long-serving member of the British diplomatic corps.  In the mid-nineteenth century he had been posted to Belize Town in the crown colony of British Honduras.  In 1859 he mounted a small expedition to the “lost” Mayan city of Copan, where he made a remarkable discovery alluded to in his journal.  He intended to return to Copan to further unearth his discovery but political intrigues cut short his tour of duty in British Honduras and he returned to England.  Shortly thereafter the orphaned Lia came to stay.  His dedication to raising his granddaughter precluded his ever returning to Copan, but he instilled in her his love of adventure and travels to exotic lands.  He taught her to ride, shoot and swim and her “school” was Sir Cyril’s vast library of books, manuscripts and maps.

Upon her grandfather’s death, Lia set out in 1903 for Central America to complete her grandfather’s exploration of Copan.   With her three courageous comrades—although there are times when their courage and even their loyalty is put in question—Lia experiences a shipwreck, pirate attacks, revolutionaries, the schemes of antiquities collectors and American capitalists, and even the business ends of bayonets brandished by U.S. Marines as she threads her way to Copan and her destiny.

This is an exceedingly pleasing novel of high adventure created by Mr. Reeve.  It is populated with heroic heroes and villainous villains and enough plot twists and turns to keep the reader happily engaged.  He is also able to seamlessly work into the tale of Lia’s odyssey a great deal of archaeological history and a sense of the beauty and awesome natural forces of Central America.

The novel is thus far available only in e-book form and unfortunately this format brings with it the occasional misspellings, punctuation errors and less than rigorous editing that seem endemic to e-books.  Nevertheless, this delightful novel of adventure and discovery deserves a rousing four trowels!