In the Footsteps of Shadows by PJ Ramsay was almost an absolute treat for a reader like me. Archaeologist Maya Rodriguez has been sent by her patron to Venezuela with some vague instructions and no idea what she’s looking for. All she knows is that it might be an artifact, and it might be Incan. Her best friend Claudia is along for all the techie parts of the search, and to keep her grounded. All Maya wants to do is discover the past, the right way, and then protect it for posterity. Unfortunately, her first day in town, she bumps into Rebecca Bronstein, daughter of the Celebrity Tomb Raiders. Just the type of archaeologists Maya hates. Rebecca is in the area searching for her missing parents, and somehow, it doesn’t quite feel like coincidence to Maya that they keep crossing paths. The resulting story is action-packed, academically fascinating, and surprisingly sexy.
Maya Rodriguez has a reputation for being a loner and hard to work with. The reputation is well-deserved. Even with her best friend, Maya comes across as sarcastic, bitchy, moody, foul-mouthed, and booze-guzzling. Sometimes she seems to have a chip on her shoulder, and we get little glimpses as to events in the past that may, or may not, explain why Maya is who she is. But those glimpses are seductive little teases, never explored to give us the real reasons Maya has become the person she is. Maya grew up a poor immigrant child, who struggled to get the opportunities that came easily for her rich, spoiled classmates. The bigotry and discrimination she faced didn’t help. Her break came with the woman who decides to sponsor her excursions, Elaine. The whole book we see a closed off, somewhat broken, hard-nosed woman with large, unresolved issues from her past that keep her from trusting others, or opening herself up in any way.
Rebecca Bronstein seems at first to be just another one of those spoiled rich kids, gadding about without knowing what she’s doing. At first, I’m as suspicious of her as Maya is. There’s something about her that makes me think she has ulterior motives. And it turns out that I was right! But! At the same time, she also exhibits a depth of character, and a level of emotion regarding Maya that totally made me buy in to her part of the story. Rebecca is determined to find her parents, and dead isn’t something she’s willing to consider. She’s willing to do just about anything to get them back, and get them back alive. This willingness doesn’t play well when Maya discovers how far she’s already gone. But it doesn’t mean that Rebecca is insincere, and the chemistry between the two women is something Rebecca doesn’t want to give up.
Claudia totally gets an inclusion in this part, because of her friendship with Maya. Anyone who can maintain a friendship with this prickly, sarcastic, brooding woman has got to be special. This shows mostly in the witty repartee between Claudia and Maya. Neither of the two takes any bull, and both are willing to tell it like it is, blunt, bold, bald-faced. Things can get tense and tempers can rise, but each woman knows that the other has her back, no matter what.
The Writing Style
For such a long book (almost 600 pages), the pacing is actually pretty good. Things seems to happen at a pretty good clip, and nothing seems to get bogged down. The language is, in places, lush and descriptive, putting the reader right in the middle of the jungle with the characters. This book is really easy to read, with the pages seeming to want to turn themselves. Ramsay also has a tongue-in-cheek style that shows not only in the overt in your face dialogue and quips, but also in the more subtle situational comedy that made me laugh more than once.
Two things that I liked the most in this book: 1. The length of the book allowed a depth of detail and slow development of the overall plot, while the individual action scenes and dialogue made me keep reading eagerly, not wanting to stop and wait for the next thing that would happen. And 2. The dialogue was so snarky, snappy, and sometimes sarcastic, that it made me laugh out loud in places. It was really a joy to read.
This is somewhat of a spoiler, so if you don’t like those, try to skip this section. However, I myself would have wanted to know this before picking up the book, so I’m going to include it here. Despite the strong romantic subplot, this book has no HEA (Happy Ever After) or HFN (Happy For Now) ending. When I first read the book, this seemed like a big letdown, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about the story. Three things made it okay for me, after a lot of thought. First, I understand that it would have been out of character for Maya to change herself that much by the end of the book without confronting her past. We don’t know what that past is, exactly, but we know it has affected her deeply for the past five years, and so yes, it may have been too much to expect Maya to turn a 180. Second, although the romantic subplot is in the book, the book isn’t a romance. It’s difficult to know how you want things to end and frustrating when they don’t end the way you think they should. But since the book isn’t marketed as a romance, I have to admit that this is more desire for me than misleading by the author. And third, this isn’t the last book about Maya, and hopefully Rebecca. If this was a standalone book, I think I’d be a lot angrier about the way it ended, but knowing that there’s a second book, and one where we supposedly get to learn about what happened in Cabo (to Maya five years ago), leaves me with hope that the way things were left between Maya and Rebecca won’t necessarily be the end of their story. Although I don’t know for certain that this is true, the hope is there. (Tentative target date for publication of book two is Sep 2017.)
There are a lot of things to recommend in this book. Looking back through while writing this review, there were many things that made me laugh, even reading them the second time. The action was wonderful and the twists unexpected. I loved the length of the book – it felt like there was a lot to sink my teeth into. And the characters were fun, and real, and complicated, and all true to themselves instead of changing to fit some accepted formula of the way things are supposed to turn out. So all of those looking for a good read that doesn’t necessarily end the way we might want it to end, this is definitely a good book to pick up.
Excerpt from In the Footsteps of Shadows by PJ Ramsay
Fifteen minutes later they arrived at the spot Maya had found the night before and she pulled back the branches, pointing out the images on the rockface excitedly.
“See? The same guy in the boat/wave thingy, only this time he’s on the water and there’s a mountain behind him and this trail leading off of it.”
Claudia yawned and raised her cup to her mouth as she studied the picture before her. “It could be anywhere, Maya. It could be the port. And how is he on the water without a boat?”
“The port? Come on, Claudia, there’s all this… like foliage shit around it, where’s that at the port?”
“Well maybe not the port but definitely along the coast,” she shrugged and drained the cup.
“What?” Maya let the branches drop and stared at her friend in irritation. “Claudia, it’s obviously the lake. It’s round! Why are you acting like it’s not obvious?”
“Why are you acting like it is?” Claudia replied angrily. “Maya, you are so determined to believe that the answers are at the damn lake that you are blocking out every other possible explanation! Now I’m not saying that you are wrong, I’m just saying if you make this great leap, even if it does turn out to be right, think of all the important information you could be missing and what that could mean for us later?”
Maya glared at her friend for a few moments as she let the words sink in then gave a defeated sigh and walked back out to the path.
“Alright. So, back to the rock?”
“We have all we need from the rock,” Claudia dropped her bag on the ground and pulled the camera out. “Just make me some more coffee while I see what I can get from this one. What time is it?”
“I don’t know. Ten?”
“Christ, Maya!” she yelled as she turned on the camera and saw the actual time. “It’s five thirty! No wonder I’m so bloody tired.” Claudia wandered into the bush and started pulling the branches back, fixing them to the main body of it so she could get a clear shot. “You seriously need to get a watch. What time have you been up since?”
“I’m not sure,” Maya answered as she set up the stove. “I woke up in the night and needed to pee. That’s how I found it.”
Claudia stopped abruptly and turned her upper body towards her. “Please tell me I’m not walking about in your piss.”
“Of course not!” Maya answered quickly as she filled the kettle. “Just maybe don’t go any further to your right.”
“God, I hate you,” she muttered as she retraced her steps out of the bush.
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- ISBN number: 9781519056245
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Note: I received a free review copy of In the Footsteps of Shadows by PJ Ramsay. No money was exchanged for this review. I will always review books as honestly as possible and on occasion I refuse to review books.