Indiana Jones and the Dance of the Giants (Rob MacGregor)
Indiana Jones and the Dance of the Giants is the second in a series of prequel novels exploring the young adult period of Indy's life. Structured much like Peril at Delphi, and featuring a return of the key artifact from that book, fans of the previous novel will doubtlessly enjoy it. Similarities aside, book two is much better due to a more plausible female lead, compelling mystery, and great final sequence. It still isn't up to snuff with the quality of the films, but Dance of the Giants is a step in the right direction.
Set sometime after the first novel, Dance of the Giants starts with Indy struggling through his first year teaching in England. His classes are made interesting by the presence of Deidre Campbell, a student who seems to know more about local findings than even Dr. Jones. The two clash quite a bit early on, as Campbell is seemingly making an effort to upstage Jones at every opportunity. All this changes when Indy reads Campbell's final term paper, which gives credence to and a lead on the theory that Merlin really existed. After confronting her about these claims, she and her mother (Dean of Indy's department) recruit him for a trip to the English countryside. Here they try to uncover the truth, while the romantic relationship between Indy and Deidre blossoms.
From here it the story follows the same structure as Peril at Delphi. An extended stay at a dig site, a few near death events, Jack Shannon shows up, and Indy gets to the bottom of the mystery which leads back to a member of the British parliament eager to seize more power through use of the artifact. This middle sequence is extremely tedious, as nothing particularly interesting happens, the revelations are predictable, and Indy's relationship with Deidre is just not interesting enough for all the face time it receives.
A shift in scenery brings an improvement in the pacing, finally bringing a sense of danger and action into the plot. Indy and friends escape from one close encounter after another, culminating in an impressive sequence set at Stonehenge. In the first sequence of the series to truly capture the magic of the films, Indy manages to save himself and his friends from a sacrificial death and survive a madcap escape to finish off the book's climax. This scene draws on the best the films have to offer: crazed cultists, iconic locations, liberal amounts of coincidence, and frantic action.
Characterization of minor characters is still a problem, but Indy is substantially better. The main reason for this is that he isn't quite as stupid as he was in the first one, falling for a woman who was obviously out to trick and manipulate him, something even his friends could see. His relationship with Deidre is, while rather boring, not nearly as contrived, and the result is that Indy doesn't come across as a bonehead for pursuing it. He displays his typical ingenuity, bravery, and skill here; Indy fans will be pleased by his characterization in this book, but not overly so.
The rest of the characters are weak by comparison. Deidre seems like she might have some depth initially, but she turns out to be just another love interest, albeit one with some knowledge of the affairs surrounding her. Jack Shannon is the only recurring character from the last book, and his role in the series is still indeterminate. He seems to show up just to save Indy at convenient moments, then mostly get in the way for the rest of the adventure. In the first book, he was interesting for his insights into the music scene of the early 20s, and his friendship with a young Indiana Jones in college. In this book, he provides nothing so interesting, coming across as a pointless, borderline annoying character. Indy's other companions are hastily introduced, barely explored characters that do little more than add to the cast of characters and give more weight to action sequences. The antagonist, Adrian Powell, is the typical power hungry dictator type. There is an interesting Star Wars-esque moment concerning the relationship between Powell and Deidre, but other than this he is exactly what you would expect.
The exception to this is a forgetful professor that Indy attempts to interact with on several occasions, Leeland Milford. The professor provides the comic relief for the story, blundering about while trying to remember critical bits of information. He disappears for the middle half of the book, but shows up at the end to spice up the otherwise dull cast. Milford isn't a great character, and his shtick goes too far in some places, but he is easily relatable and certainly the most entertaining, life like personality among Indy's companions.
One of my favorite elements of the first book was how the author tried to use the time element of the setting to flavor the work. Unfortunately, this great bit of writing isn't really present in Dance of the Giants. We get some stuff on the British Parliament, more references to the underground music scene, and an attempt at teaching an archaeology lesson circa 1925, but that is about it. The city of London doesn't come alive the way Paris did in the original, and there is surprisingly little about the aftermath of World War I. It isn't a bad attempt at world building, I was just expecting more.
The rest of the writing is about what you would expect: plenty of action, lots of one liners, and lore. Dialogue isn't the greatest, especially Indy's sappy romance with Deidre which is horribly overwritten, but there are still some entertaining lines in places. The pacing suffers from a dull middle section, but overall the book is competently, if unspectacularly, written.
Dance of the Giants is an improvement in most ways over Peril at Delphi. The lore is more interesting, the characters (ever so slightly improved) and the action is more exciting. It isn't quite up to snuff with the movies due to its bland female lead, small scope, and flimsy antagonists, but it is a step in the right direction for this series. Make sure you read Peril at Delphi first, then give this book a shot.