Monday, March 26, 2007

Book Review: The First Seal

Author: Sean Harris
Publisher: BookSurge, LLC
ISBN: 1-4196-4953-1

When archaeologists in New Mexico discover 16th century British armor hidden in a Navajo burial ground, Jim O’Neal joins the search to uncover the meaning of this unexpected find. Shortly afterwards, he learns that another artifact of much greater significance, an engraved stone tablet, was also discovered. Jim, needing to jumpstart his stagnant career, envisions these finds as his keys to academic acclaim. When an archaeologist is killed and Jim is framed for the murder, he realizes that, in order to prove his innocence, he must solve the mystery of the tablet and find its companion, which is buried in another site. His allies in this quest are Frank, a Navajo graduate student, and Marji, a mysterious newcomer whose interest in the discovery adds another layer of intrigue to the adventure.

Two other groups, in addition to Jim, Frank and Marji, want to claim the tablets for their own purposes. One group is determined use the tablets to set cataclysmic events into motion. The other, composed of descendants of the ancient Knights Templar, wants to ensure that the mysteries of the tablets remain unsolved and, in so doing, maintain international stability. All three groups follow trails across New Mexico and into the mountains of Colorado, where the ultimate showdown takes place in ancient Navajo territory.

A second story that develops throughout the book is the tale of how the tablets arrived in the New World. The main character of this story is Thomas Wyclyffe, a sixteenth century Templar Knight who has traveled from Britain to hide tablets. The parallel between the two stories is clever. The reader simultaneously follows the twenty-first century adventurers as they uncover the artifacts and the sixteenth century adventurer as he buries his goods. The transitions between the stories are smooth and both stories climax at appropriate points in their respective narratives.

Generally speaking, The First Seal is well-written and fun to read. The plot is clever and coherent. Harris draws on several historical strands, such as Navajo culture and lore and the story of the Knights Templar, to weave a very engaging story. The only plot weakness comes in the final scene, which unfortunately draws on a device that is quickly becoming a cliché in twenty-first century American literature. With regard to the book’s characters, most of them are interesting. Readers will empathize with the heroes and be intrigued by the demonic duo. The only character who seems to be cut from a cardboard mold is Jesse, the twisted twentieth century Templar Knight. The only other critical issue I have with the book is that it needs one more round of editing, as there are several points at which sloppy grammar becomes annoying. Since these shortcomings are few in number and generally minor in effect, I highly recommend The First Seal to readers who like adventure stories with historical flavors and I look forward to reading more of this author’s work in the future.

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