Sunday 26 March 2017

Digging In The Stars, Katherine Blakeney

The old belief that Thror was a black hole instead of a planet was not unfounded. A black hole sucking in all who ventured too far
A lost ancient civilization and the tomb of a legendary king lie buried beneath centuries of ash on the volcanic planet Thror, but that’s not the only reason sixteen-year-old Carter has tricked her Archaeology of Outer Space class into coming here. Her best friend Conrad has just disappeared on a trip to Thror, leaving behind little more than a broken vintage camera. The strange and disturbing photographs she manages to extract make her suspect Conrad’s disappearance is somehow connected to the hidden tomb of the last king of Thror.

Unfortunately, the ludicrously over-friendly ‘Furry Giants’ who have taken over the planet’s barren surface would rather offer her cheap souvenirs than answers, and the local officials insist they have no record of Conrad’s existence. Inspired by fear for Conrad’s life and the chance to make the greatest archaeological discovery of the century, Carter and her friends follow Conrad’s footsteps deep into the mountains of Thror’s forbidden Black Zone and launch an illicit excavation. 

* * .5
2.5 / 5

Digging in the Stars had a lot of potential (it's about archaeology IN OUTER SPACE, I mean talk about awesome) but unfortunately the characters were a bit too flat and the narrative too confused to pull it off. There was still a good chunk of mystery and a totally whacky ending to make this book fun, but it wasn't exactly a page turner. 

Carter is our main character, a student at college studying Archaeology of Outer Space which is apparently rather unpopular, given her small class size of about six. Carter is Professor P's teaching assistant and so books the archaeology apprenticeship trip to Magnus. Except, well, she doesn't. Her friend Conrad went missing on the desert-like, low technological planet Thror, famed for the lost tomb of the last King of Thror. So Carter books a flight to Thror, which they somehow all board without anyone noticing that they are not, in fact, going to Magnus (how does this happen? What responsible adult trusts a sixteen year old to book an interstellar flight and accommodation and then pay so little attention in an airport so as not to notice?). 

"You are not Howard Carter! You are my sixteen-year-old student, and you have done more than enough damage alread, risking our budget, my career, and perhaps all our lives on a whim"

On Thror, not all is as it seems. The natives, the "Furry Giants", are suspiciously unhelpful as Carter searches for traces of her missing friend. Then comes some treasure-searching, a bit of mystery, some archaeology and a whole lot of weirdness. Back to Carter: she's a bit flat. What do I know about Carter? Her parents are big archaeological folks, she loves archaeology and loves her namesake (Howard Carter), and she has a bit of a superiority complex. That's about it. She dips in and out of concern for her friend, Conrad. Given that he's supposedly dead, you'd think that he'd be a bit more on her mind, rather than traipsing around looking at markets and making necklaces. 

Then there's the rest of her archaeology class who get unwittingly transported to Thror. The only two with a glimmer of real personality are Gioconda, who is a total hippy and ends up joining some kind of Throrian cult, and Lizzie who spends the whole book alternating between sarky and sulky. Allison and Bryanne are pretty interchangeable. None of the four are that into archaeology. Professor P, the class teacher, is actually rather interesting - she's a gem of a character. She's pretty sensible, being in charge of a bunch of emotional sixteen year olds and all, witty, and a little bit daring. 

Unfortunately, I found the writing to be quite confused. Sections were either long and drawn out and I wasn't quite sure why they were happening or there's too much happening all at once. The mythology and history of Thror is pretty poorly explained, all the natives seem to be creepy and lecherous, and there's lots of little sideplots (Lizzie's family, for example) that are hinted at and never explored. Conrad is also very annoying and a manipulative irritant, when I think he's supposed mysterious and handsome. 

"Now that we have established that this is an excavation and not an opera, we can proceed with our work"

That's all rather negative. So what do I like? I absolutely loved all the archaeology based bits - that's why I picked the book up initially, after all! I loved archaeology as child and was incredibly into Ancient Egypt, which seemed to sort of inspire Thror. Unfortunately, there was only a couple of scenes that really got into the details of what doing excavation is all about - everyone seemed a bit too gung-ho in going around a cutting locks and bashing doors in on ancient tombs. I also thought the opening pages of Digging in the Stars were pretty good - I was grabbed from the get-go. 

Digging in the Stars is built off of an awesome idea, but the cast is too dull and the writing a bit confused to pull it off. I recommend it if you like reading about weird aliens or archaeology. Bonus points for incorporating a couple of my favourite lines of poetry ever:

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield 

My thanks to Netgalley, the author, and the publisher for an ARC of Digging In The Stars.

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