An Angel in Stone
Silhouette’s Bombshell line didn’t get off to the best start, but it seems to have found its legs the last several months. Most of my favorites have been the action/adventure stories set in exotic locales. An Angel in Stone is that type of story, a cool read about competing fossil hunters racing through the jungles of Southeast Asia in search of a legendary T. rex skeleton.
The book opens with a prologue depicting heroine Raine Ashaway chasing a gunman through the streets of Manhattan on horseback. The story then moves back several hours, showing the events leading to this moment. It’s a strange choice because it only takes about twenty pages to arrive at this scene, too soon for the teaser to generate any real suspense. I’m sure the purpose was to start the book with an action sequence, but I really didn’t find it all that exciting. The book might as well have started with the first chapter, which would have worked just as well. Plus, this whole section is completely removed from the rest of the story, so it all seems kind of pointless.
In any case, as the first chapter begins, Raine Ashaway is attending a gala at the Manhattan Museum of Natural History. She is a fossil hunter, an occupation that’s in her blood. Her family operates the renowned collecting firm Ashaway All, and Raine herself discovered the dinosaur fossil being unveiled at the gala. Several times during the course of the night she notices a stranger staring at her from across the room. A short while later, a waiter gives her a note from someone claiming to have a fossil of great value they’re willing to sell. If she’s interested, she should come to the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge at midnight. When she sees the waiter speaking to the stranger, she assumes he must be the one who gave her the note. Unfortunately she doesn’t have time to think about it, when masked gunmen break into the gala in a misguided attempt to rob the rich folk in attendance.
Raine foils the gunmen, eventually chasing one through the streets of Manhattan as seen earlier. When the excitement is over, she makes her way to the Brooklyn Bridge for the midnight appointment. There she learns that the stranger isn’t the person who sent the note, but another potential buyer. What’s more, he’s none other than O.A. Kincade, head of Ashaway All’s main competitor, SauroStar. Over the last year, SauroStar has outbid her family firm on several fossils and the digging rights to several sites. It’s started to feel personal. Cade erases any doubt about that, making it clear he has a personal grudge against the Ashaways and he intends to destroy them.
The mysterious note-sender turns out to be an Asian teenager, who offers to sell them a T. rex tooth made of fire opal. The item stuns both Raine and Cade. Opalized dinosaur fossils are the rarest of the rare, and the only ones discovered have been of small dinosaurs. The existence of this tooth means there’s probably an entire T. rex fossil made of fire opal. If so, it would be the find of a lifetime. Things soon take a deadly turn, and before long Raine and Cade are on a race through the jungles of Borneo, both pursuing the T. rex. But they aren’t the only ones searching for this elusive treasure. A greedy villain is also on the hunt, and he’ll stop at nothing to get there first.
The story doesn’t really kick in until the opalized T. rex tooth is revealed, but after that it’s off and running. It was a one-sitting read for me. Once I got into it, I didn’t put it down, absorbed by this compelling story. Fossil hunting is such a cool topic for an adventure tale, and all of the dinosaur elements are fascinating. The author’s writing is crisp and detailed, offering plenty of information that’s both interesting to read about and makes the characters credible. The jungle setting is nicely evoked, with great descriptions and deft portrayals of the locals. The author really brings the reader into a world most of us will never see in real life, immersing us in it in a wholly believable way. There’s also an intriguing subplot about the mystery of a squadron of American troops that parachuted into the jungle during World War II, never to be seen again. It’s great stuff.
The character development is minimal, even for a Bombshell. Raine is a strong and mostly likable heroine, but the author reveals little about who she is as a person. Meanwhile, the reason for Cade’s hatred toward the Ashaways goes unexplained for too long. There are a few hints, but it’s really hard to empathize with him. He just seems unnecessarily vicious towards Raine, especially since it’s obvious he’s mad about something someone else in her family must have done while she herself is blameless. The author tries to provide a few moments when he’s nice to other people, but the lack of insight into his character often made him unlikable. When the truth was finally revealed, I felt for him, but the information should have come at least 200 pages sooner. This book has more of a romance than many Bombshells, but it feels kind of perfunctory and isn’t entirely convincing, especially given Cade’s attitude for much of the book.
Even so, as a pure action-adventure tale dealing with fascinating topics and set in exotic places, An Angel in Stone is a fun and often thrilling read. The characters may not be the strongest, but the story itself more than compensates. The pace is fast, the writing is vivid and the storyline is very cool. If you love armchair adventure, here’s a book for you.