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Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center

The Oracle by D.J. Niko

August 1, 2016

Medallion Press:  Aurora, IL
2015 (PB)

The Oracle is the third installment of D.J. Niko’s adventure series featuring Cambridge archaeologist Sarah Weston and her erstwhile (and sometimes trustworthy) side kick and occasional lover, American anthropologist Daniel Madigan.  The author conceives an interesting plotline that finds Sarah and Daniel overseeing the excavation of an oracular site to Ismenian Apollo near Thebes, Greece.  Daniel, assisted by Sarah, has been hired by the Britain-based A.E. Thurlow Foundation to consult on the project conducted by the Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities in Thebes, and underwritten by the Foundation.

The relatively mundane project suddenly becomes much more sinister as thieves break into the Ephorate museum, kill the night watchman, loot the archives and destroy a display case that had contained an obelisk—a brass stake—of unknown origin.  Fortuitously, the brass stake had been recently removed to a storage vault.  The seemingly innocuous artifact, it would seem, is far more important than anyone had thought.  However, the obelisk lies at the center of a byzantine scheme hatched by the Thurlow Foundation authorities, in association with the British Government.  Without Sarah’s knowledge, Daniel has been hired not simply to assure the wise use of Foundation resources at Thebes, but to secure the brass stake, which is desperately desired by a mysterious collector of rare antiquities, and to trade the stake for an artifact equally desperately desired by the British government.

A second attempt at stealing the obelisk spurs Sarah and Daniel into seeking the source of the artifact’s importance.  Sarah discovers an epigraphic clue in a wolf-headed rhyton (a drinking vessel) and this in turn leads them to the mystical Cave of Trophonius in Livadeia, Greece.  The chase is on as the trail leads Sarah and Daniel—sometimes separately and sometimes in partnership—to unlock (literally) the secret of the obelisk.   It quickly becomes apparent that there exist several entities prepared to go to any extreme to obtain the obelisk, and they are willing to pursue the adventurers  from Thebes to the Cave of Trophonius to the abandoned Sumela monastery in Turkey to Cairo and finally to Delphi and a cataclysmic denouement.

Interspersed throughout the tale of Sarah and Daniel’s contemporary adventures is the poignant narrative of Aristea, the “last” oracle of Delphi, as she desperately struggles to survive the destruction of her world in 4th Century Greece—for the Christian emperor Theodosius has declared war on paganism.  It is her story that provides the background to Sarah and Daniel’s 21st Century quest.

Author Niko has provided a provocative plot and a compelling backstory, but unfortunately goes on from that point to introduce a colorless and ineffectual master villain and a hopelessly muddled and obtuse threat to the world as we know it.  Sarah and Daniel deserved better!

Two trowels for The Oracle.