The Oracle | D.J. Niko | 2015 | Medallion Press | 362p | Review copy | Buy the book
It is AD 393 and time has run out for the pagan gods of Greece. The new god’s priests and agents are ready to pursue the followers of the old faiths to the end of the earth, particularly determined to destroy forever the centre of the ancient world – Delphi and its Oracle of Apollo. The last priestess of Delphi, Aristea, brutalised and desperate, is on the run, having escaped from her captors. Her goal is a cave tucked away in the mountains above Delphi. The cave is opened and closed using a locking mechanism triggered by a brass stake or obelisk. Hidden inside the cave are the wonders of the temple, including something especially precious and important, an object that men will kill to obtain. It is there that Aristea believes she will be safe.
Many lifetimes later, in the present day, English archaeologist Sarah Weston and her American partner Daniel Madigan are excavating a Mycenaean tomb near Delphi. The local archaeological museum is full of fabulous artefacts but, when thieves break in one night, they ignore all of this, instead ransacking the case in which a brass obelisk is kept. Just as well, then, that the object is currently backstage undergoing study. A guard is killed that night. The thieves are ruthless. Sarah and Daniel are not intimidated. They’ve been in dangerous situations before. And so, following the clues, especially the obelisk, they uncover a trail that leads to the cave and beyond, across Greece and further afield. As Sarah and Daniel slowly learn what it is they’re searching for, they realise that they could be out of their depth. The ancient gods might not be dead at all. Someone, it seems, is determined to bring them back to life in all their vengeful glory.
The Oracle is the third of D.J. Niko’s Sarah Weston Chronicles. As soon as I finished the first, The Tenth Saint, I read the second, and I knew that this is a series I’ll follow. It’s been quite a long wait but it’s been well worth it. The Oracle demonstrates yet again that D.J. Niko very definitely knows her stuff. She is able to draw on detailed and illuminating research to add an authenticity to her thrillers that makes them very rewarding to read, at no cost to their thrills. D.J. Niko doesn’t just know her history, she also knows her locations inside out. As Sarah and Daniel scour the hillsides around Delphi, you can almost imagine yourself with them. The descriptions of the archaeological sites ring true and the explanation and discussion of old artefacts, religions or philosophies is done in such a clever way that you’re gripped. Back that up with some dramatic chases across Greece and beyond, and throw into the mix some deliciously bad baddies – as well as heroic goodies – and it’s clear that D.J. Niko has discovered the key for writing clever archaeological mysteries that entertain and conscientiously inform at the same time. No mean feat.
Perhaps the only slight issue I have with the series is its ongoing saga of Sarah and Daniel’s relationship. As in previous books, there is plenty of distrust between the two, as well as misunderstandings and bad communication. I hope that these problems have now been resolved and, in future books, they can move on. Far more interesting is the relationship between Sarah and her father, which is barely touched upon here but is very intriguing. I was rather surprised, though, by the rather brusque treatment of the relationship between Daniel and his father. But these are incidental concerns. The emphasis throughout, at least in the reader’s mind, is the mystery and danger at hand and in this nothing disappoints.
Story lines alternate throughout, bringing to the fore the lost pagan world of Aristea. I loved these chapters. They strongly evoke a long gone time and place, that must have seemed old even during the late 4th century AD when the scenes are set. Aristea’s story is every bit as exciting as Sarah and Daniel’s. I also enjoyed the fact that very little is clear cut. Paganism and Christianity aren’t treated as being either good or bad, just as not all of the baddies were always bad. As for the mystery itself, I was kept guessing. It is so good to read an archaeological thriller series as intelligent and well-researched as this one. Throughout it all, our heroine Sarah Weston knows exactly what the most important thing is – the archaeology. I like that.