Audiobook Review: Cries From the Lost Island by Kathleen O’Neal Gear
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4 of 5 stars
Series: Book 1/Stand Alone
Publisher: Tantor Audio (March 10, 2020)
Length: 11 hrs and 6 mins
Author Information: Website
Narrator: Charlie Thurston
So I’m pretty sure this is my background in anthropology talking, but I really enjoyed this. Coupled with my general interest in ancient Rome and Ptolemaic Egypt, it made Cries from the Lost Island by Kathleen O’Neal Gear a delightful escape for this archaeology and history nerd.
The protagonist of this story is sixteen-year-old Halloran Stevens, a smart but socially awkward high school student. His only friends are Roberto, grungy biker and self-proclaimed witch extraordinaire, and Cleo Mallawi, who moved to Colorado to live with her aunt and uncle after her parents were killed in the revolution that rocked Egypt a few years ago. Hal has never met anyone like Cleo before. Intelligent, cultured, and a bit of a social outcast just like him, Cleo comes from a family of scholars and archaeologists, and has a deep knowledge of her country’s history and mythology. She also claims to be the reincarnation of Queen Cleopatra, and that she had killed her first demon with her father’s pistol at the age of ten. Everyone else thinks she’s not quite right in the head, her delusions caused by the trauma of losing her parents. But to Hal, Cleo was the most fascinating and beautiful girl who had ever lived. And despite himself, he believed in all her stories.
Then one day, a frightened and distraught Cleo comes to Hal asking for his help, convinced that more demons are after her. She shows him an ancient medallion that her father had uncovered in a dig site in Egypt and given to her before he died. Hal was the only one Cleo could trust, and she needed him to keep the medallion safe, and let no one—especially her aunt and uncle—get their hands on it. But not long after that, tragedy strikes, and Cleo is found murdered in the woods near her home. A grief-stricken Hal then starts having visions and hearing voices that he is sure belonged to Cleo, even though it should be impossible…unless everything she had told him was the truth. Now his next step is to return the medallion to Egypt, so that the spirit of Cleopatra can finally rest in everlasting peace with the love of her life, Marc Antony. And Hal knows just how he can pull it off. Together with his best friend Roberto, the two of them decide to go along with the pretense of being students traveling abroad with Cleo’s uncle, the famed archaeologist Dr. James Moriarity—the very man who had tried to take away her medallion. The professor claims he only wants to help, but Hal knows better than to trust anyone with the quest he had been given. After all, the soul of Cleopatra depends on it.
As much as I enjoyed Cries from the Lost Island, I will say this: the book’s not perfect and it has a lot of flaws. The first thing I noticed was that it had very strong young adult vibes. I didn’t mind, but others heading into this under the impression this would have a more mature feel are going to be disappointed. Hal is sixteen, and to the author’s credit, his character is written to act and sound his age. Prose is dialogue heavy, and conversations between Hal and Roberto are packed with the usual teen banter you’d expect. This is also less of an action-adventure novel in the style of Indiana Jones and more of an adventurous mystery steeped in historical intrigue. If you’re not too interested in Egyptian mythology and history or the minutiae of the archaeological process, the middle sections of the novel will likely pose a struggle. But if you’re into that kind of stuff, you’ll have a much better time.
Granted, the plot was a bit scattered and pacing could have been better. The beginning of the book is a flurry of activity, from Cleo’s murder to the boys’ journey to Egypt. It’s when they arrive at Moriarity’s dig site where the momentum stalls, and here Hal seems to spin his wheels waiting something for something to happen, rather than take control of his own quest. An author should also balance the need to provide background knowledge to the reader without going overboard. Admittedly, there are times when Gear comes dangerously close to info dumping, and here is where my own personal experiences, education, and interests might have shielded me and made me a lot more tolerant to it.
Without Roberto, I also don’t think I would’ve had nearly as much fun with this book. Hands down, one of the best characters I’ve read so far this year. He’s completely irreverent, politically incorrect, and full of shit half the time, but he brought energy and humor to the story, especially when things dragged and needed an extra boost. The protagonist might have ben Hal, but Roberto definitely stole the show.
All told, Cries from the Lost Island can be a great read if you are into its premise and subjects. It not, it can be a little tougher. There’s a good story here though, if you forgive some of its minor missteps like pacing and some plot meandering, and in any case, it makes up for these with its fascinating historical fiction and paranormal elements, plenty of quippy dialogue, and moments of adventure and humor. If you’re interested in archaeology and Egypt, it’s worth giving it a shot.
Audiobook Comments: Great narration by Charlie Thurston. The story called for a lot of different voices, accents and speaking styles, and I think he did them all very well. A solid performance, and an enjoyable audiobook overall.