The publication of a new thriller by David Gibbins is always a pleasure, not least because you know what to expect and it’s very unlikely to disappoint. However, mixed in with that pleasure, there is likely to be a sprinkling of the mild exasperation and frustration that also invariably accompany a new Gibbins books, at least for me. Fortunately, because fans now feel such an affection for hero Jack Howard and his trusty friend Costas, these feelings become easier to bear and most definitely secondary to that enjoyment. Even better – The Gods of Atlantis is by far the best of the series that I’ve read and I loved every page of it.
The Gods of Atlantis returns marine archaeologist Jack to his first great discovery, Atlantis (which is covered in the first novel, fittingly enough entitled Atlantis). An underwater volcanic eruption has left the ruins on the very brink of destruction and Jack and Costas grab the chance to return for one last dive. Their aim is to unravel the clues inscribed on to ancient pillars or painted on to cavern walls which hint at the reasons behind the demise of Atlantis and the possible creation of a new civilisation far away, an Atlantis reborn.
This quest continues the mystery of the palladion, the gold disc or key marked with the symbols of Atlantis, which played such an important role in Gibbins’ last novel The Mask of Troy. This object was found by Schliemann and then stolen by Nazis. Not surprisingly, then, in the quest for the new Atlantis, Jack and Costas must delve deep into the last days of the Third Reich, focusing in particular on a bunker hidden away in the forests, concealing horrors, a tower in Berlin Zoo filled to the brim with humanity during the closing days of the war, and Himmler’s castle, built as if it had been resurrected by King Arthur. Stories intermingle, clues take us from the days of Atlantis, to the 1940s and to the present day, and flashbacks co-exist with the discoveries of Jack and Costas as they travel around the globe. Needlesstosay, Jack and Costas are not alone in wanting to discover the palladion and the terrible secret that it unlocks.
David Gibbins’ thrillers aren’t typical quest thrillers. If you wanted thrilling gun battles by the dozen, car chases across mountains and through city streets, and more dead bodies that you can shake a cat at, then you’d be disappointed. There are these things – or at least some of them – but they’re few and far between. Instead, what we have is an adventure of discovery. Archaeological and historical clues are sought, discovered, explained and then used to move on to the next clue. They take pieces from the earlier novels and use them to help build a very thorough and convincing backdrop for these new discoveries. There are run-ins with the bad guys, there are scenes of great peril – and they are exciting scenes – but these are most definitely secondary to the history and the context, whether that context is Neolithic, Trojan or Nazi.
Personally, I have no problem with this at all. I’m fascinated by the history and, as an archaeologist, there’s plenty here to keep me reading the book until well into the night. My issue with David Gibbins’ novels has always been that too much of the valuable context is placed in the mouths of the characters. This is not the right place for it. Too many times, Jack or Costas, or any number of their colleagues and friends, will take time out to stand and explain the history behind something, their family history, their career, the story of an object, the archaeology of a site, their flying skill, the makeup of wall plaster and so on and so on. Take these expositions out of peoples’ mouths and the books would be much better. However, they’re there and the only thing you can do is tut a little and just appreciate the information that’s packed in. Fortunately, there are also moments of dialogue between Jack and Costas that made me laugh out loud.
Obviously, a novel like this requires a leap of faith and some suspension of disbelief, not least because of the coincidences. Again, David Gibbins is more fascinated by the history and archaeology (ancient and Nazi) than he is with plot but if you can accept the Atlantis element of the story you can certainly accept that a main character’s old aunt was central to the whole mystery. My other slight misgiving was that a couple of characters, to my mind, would have been too old but again they’re such good characters belief was happily suspended.
You don’t need to have read any of Gibbins’ earlier novels to read and enjoy The Gods of Atlantis. Indeed, this is by far the best I’ve read and it could even be a good one to start with. However, it does give away the plot of a couple – Atlantis and The Mask of Troy – so do bear that in mind. I haven’t read The Last Gospel (about Herculaneum) but the references to it in this book make me very keen to read it.
David Gibbins is a marine archaeologist just like his hero. He is genuinely fascinated and enthused by the mysteries of the past and he is also very knowledgeable about his subject. If you share this interest, as I do, then spending a few days with The Gods of Atlantis is well worth it and I can’t wait for the next one.