This second installment to The Fargo Adventures follows Sam and Remi Fargo into corners of the world I know virtually nothing about: Madagascar, the Aztec swamp-lands, and some hidden bays of Indonesia. One of the appeals of such global adventure novels, I suppose, is the reader’s ability to “travel” to such distant lands without ever leaving the comfort of his sofa, but for me, I just wish I had a little background first to help me get my bearings. It’s my own dumb fault, of course, lacking such world-wisdom, and I guess now I’m a bit more intrigued to pick up and retain whatever geographical and cultural tidbits come my way in the future.
The plot to The Lost Empire is more convoluted that of Book 1, Spartan Gold—an American traveling to Africa only to find the answer to a South American riddle in a stone mined from Indonesia—though the coded portions were slightly more reader-friendlythan in that first book. Whereas Napoleon’s poems in Spartan Gold were impossible for the reader to even begin to understand let alone decipher, at least the methods of encoding in The Lost Empire contained familiar math sequences and tricks. I certainly never tried to figure any of the mysterious messages out myself—that’s what Sam and Remi are there for—but I feel like I could have enjoyed small victories had I tried.
While the decoding in this book took a step in the right direction, I felt greatly annoyed by Remi early on. As self-funded treasure-hunters, the Fargos have a great store of encyclopedic knowledge on many topics, and where they lack, they’ve got their team of researchers to fill in the gaps. For this reason, I should not have been surprised by Remi’s ridiculously photographic memory about not only Aztec history and culture, but also minute details about their religion and the ability to decipher their hieroglyphs. I should not have been surprised, but I was. After all, very early on Remi herself admits that she had taken just one semester of Aztec history during her graduate work and had little interaction with the Aztecs since, yet her retention was on the level of Rainman.
The Fargo team members are geniuses, no doubt, but sometimes I find that their dialogue reads like a textbook or a Wiki page, not like middle-aged rich folk racking their brains for info they’d heard in a class twenty years prior. I blame co-author Grant Blackwood for this oversight, and I praise Cussler for the quick fix that came later on, for about half-way through the book, both Sam and Remi began calling up their former professors to help give further insight into areas about which they themselves knew very little. This dependency offered some realism to the tale just when it was needed most.
This wasn’t my favorite Cussler to date, but the Fargos are definitely starting to grow on me. I look forward to trying out Book Three, The Kingdom, sometime soon.