LOST EMPIRE is the latest novel featuring treasure-hunting couple Sam and Remi Fargo, who are on a scuba-diving holiday off the coast of Tanzania, where they find a coin with unusual markings. Nearby, while seeking its origins, they discover yet a more exciting relic --- a ship’s bell inscribed with numerous strange markings --- and send images of the bell to their research team back in California for identification. Selma Wondrash heads the team that will search for answers and set off a vast hunt for the ancient origins of a modern civilization.
"Volcano eruptions, island invasions and government corruptions combine to give readers an exciting and suspenseful story."
In far-off Mexico City, Quauhtil Garza sits as President of Mexico and head of his Mexican Tenochca party. He’s been swept into power on the promise of restoring Mexico’s heritage as an Aztec nation, a return to its rich historical past. However, his campaign is successful primarily due to the previous administration’s incompetence and corruption. He has renounced his Christian name in favor of the Nahautl one, a symbol of embracing his Aztec heritage, and will stop at nothing to retain the illusion of a return to historical roots, while in fact he seeks absolute power. He employs a six-foot menace in the form of Itzli Rivera to sustain his powerful regime. A military-trained soldier, Rivera is commissioned to squelch any effort that may be made to solve the mysterious disappearance of Mexico’s early Aztec civilization. For a decade, Rivera has been successful in burying any archaeological discovery that would diminish the lofty standing of his president’s heritage. Rivera rushes to Tanzania when a telecast of the Fargos’ discovery threatens that further research will unearth the Aztec mystery.
When the Fargos return to the area where they have lifted the ship’s bell, they are stopped by Tanzanian authorities who question their reasons for diving in the area. A shadowy figure on the government yacht is obviously behind the harassment. Sam and Remi resolve to locate the position of whatever sunken ship is home to the bell they’ve found. The word “Ophelia” is inscribed in the bell, along with unusual scripts and notations that could be mathematical in nature.
Selma leads the search through archives to the discovery that the ship is likely a Civil War vessel, formerly christened the Shenandoah, that was originally used by the southern Confederacy as a blockade-runner. De-commissioned, it was sold to a wealthy Mid-Eastern sultan and re-named several times. The Fargos travel to a remote museum that houses the research of Winston Lloyd Blaylock. The man had lived in Africa many years, contracted malaria and disappeared into a jungle on a curious quest. Uncovering his journal, the Fargos wind deeper into the mystery that both eluded Blaylock and the present–day Mexican mercenaries who seem bent on ending Sam and Remi’s journey --- with death.
True to his research style, Clive Cussler writes extensive detail into his story. We read about construction of Civil War vessels, with particulars about the ships that made them stalwarts of the deep waters they traversed. The Shenandoah’s demise is not apparent in historical documents. Thus the Fargos’ hunt for her becomes an enticing game. What the ship did endure and the secrets she held in her twilight years become a race for discovery that both the Fargos and the Mexican thugs they elude travel several continents to unravel.
Sam and Remi are likable characters who bring unique qualities to the page. Sam’s judo training serves him well in tight situations when the dastardly evil Rivera comes to kill them both. Remi, on the other hand, has knowledge of the ancient Aztec people from college courses, which serves them well in solving the mystery. Sam may appear as a bit “too nice” when he allows a bad guy to escape. The man was victimized by Rivera and his men, bent on the Fargos’ murder. But then the going gets tough, and when his wife’s life is threatened, Sam comes through with daring bravado.
In all, this is an enjoyable story about the Aztec civilization and its origins. Full of symbolism, the puzzle becomes tedious at times, but Cussler and Grant Blackwood relieve the tedium by inserting another action scene just in time to save the Fargos from sudden elimination. Volcano eruptions, island invasions and government corruptions combine to give readers an exciting and suspenseful story. LOST EMPIRE will make fans of the series hungry for the next installment.
Reviewed by Judy Gigstad on January 12, 2011