One thing certainly leads to another in marine archeologist Jack Howard’s world! In the beginning of the book, he and his team, the International Maritime University, are prowling the waters off Istanbul, discovering relics from the great Venetian naval battles of the 1400s. It’s nice that they discover an old cannon, possibly used on a Venetian ship during the Great Siege of 1453, but Jack is looking for relics far older. He is on the trail of King Harald Sigurdsson, otherwise known as Harald Hardrada (or Harald the Ruthless), legendary Norse king who started his career as a member of Emperor Constantine’s Varangian guard.
Jack’s theory is that Harald made off with the Menorah, looted from the Jewish temple in Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 A.D. Made of pure gold, it’s considered one of the great lost treasures of the world, and it disappeared at about the same time Harald went north to lay his claim to the throne of Britain. Harald is purported to have died in battle with the English king, but Jack isn’t so sure. He thinks Harald survived the battle and held onto the menorah, using it to attract followers and build a new army.
Unfortunately for the IMU team, Jack isn’t the only one to have this idea. The concept of a félag, a secret society of warrior-brothers, has been around since the time of the Vikings, and a lone rogue member of an ancient félag survives, with links to the Vatican and the Nazi Party. He is obsessed with the Menorah and will stop at nothing to get it.
The final confrontation takes place in what must have been Harald’s last stand --- Mexico. Yes, Mexico. Blown off course, Harald and his fellow Vikings fall into the hands of people even more violent than they are, the Toltecs. Judging by some cave paintings, the Toltecs made short work of the Vikings and the Menorah must remain at the bottom of a cozy little blood-drenched spot called the Well of Sacrifice. As the Well is now underwater, Jack and his team must take the dive of their lives, to find the Menorah and save the life of a team member fallen into enemy hands.
David Gibbins himself is a marine archeologist, and he is clearly inspired by his work. Both this book and his first novel, ATLANTIS, draw heavily on his field research and academic training to weave stories in which the facts inform the fiction. Comparisons with Clive Cussler and Dan Brown are inevitable. This is a classic adventure story, scrupulously researched and enthusiastically told.
Reviewed by Colleen Quinn on January 7, 2011