Indiana Jones and the Seven Veils (Rob MacGregor)
Indiana Jones and the Seven Veils is the third installment in a series of novels that detail Indy's life prior to the events of the four movies. It builds upon the overarching historical sub plot of the first two novels, now hypothesizing that Celts and other ancient cultures moved from Europe to the Americas thousands of years before Columbus. Indy's journey to track down famed actual explorer Percy Fawcett brings this theory into question quite quickly, and the book seemingly has all the makings of a quality adventure piece. Sadly, the dynamic between Indy and his new wife Deirdre is unspectacular, as are the various antagonists, and the third act of the story is one poorly written mystical scene after another. What initially seemed to be an enormous step forward for this series turned into a step back after the disastrous finale.
We start with a sequence that brings to mind the opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Though not quite as iconic, the scene is a fun mix of indigenous guides, perilous traps, tombs, and gunfights that does a great job of setting the scene for a riveting novel. It establishes the most important characters for the initial acts, including the conniving archaeologist Victor Bernard, and serves as a pitch perfect example of a typical Indy adventure.
From there, the book gains even more momentum as Indy and Deirdre head for Marcus Brody's new exhibit presenting evidence that ancient cultures from around the world managed to migrate to the Americas. While in the area, Brody shows Indy some captivating journal passages from Percy Fawcett concerning his travels in search of the lost city of Z. Brody convinces Indy to head to Brazil to hunt for him, and Indy and Deirdre soon find themselves on a cruise ship on the way to Rio de Janeiro in the midst of Carnival.
The central mystery is still going strong, and there have been plenty of awesome fight/chase scenes since the duo's arrival in Rio, but by the time Indy and company have made it into the jungle to hunt for Fawcett, the plot is starting to unravel a bit. Just prior to this, a creepy visit to the temporary residence of two residents of the lost city, Rae-La and Amergin, yields some answers and Fawcett's journal, in addition to two new companions, but it starts delving into confusing mystical elements concerning the seven veils. The veils are basically the ability to shield things from the outside world, or something. This is where the book really starts to fall apart because the veils are incredibly poorly explained, sometimes by error and sometimes by design. We don't get details for most of them, and the mechanics behind the ones that are shown and explained are kind of hard to digest. Some of the questions include: how did a group of wayward Celts stranded in the Amazon acquire these powers, why is the power diminishing, how can you control reality through dreams, and so on. It introduces something so over the top and difficult to explain that all the exposition slows down what was to that point a great novel.
Once Indy and Deirdre are in this mystical city, Ceiba, at what should be the climax, things slow down a ton so they can each suffer through one tedious dream sequence after another, confusing them as they mistake reality for fantasy and vice versa. Apparently the veils are controlled through a dream like state, and everyone in the village does important things while they are asleep. The villagers are mad at Indy and Deirdre for trespassing, and confine them to a cell where they will be used as breeders to "make the blood stronger" because apparently all the Ceiban inbreeding has had an effect on their abilities. Honestly none of it makes sense, and what should have been the climax to a fun filled, authentic ride turns into one pretentious expository sequence after another as Indy, Deirdre, and later, Fawcett spend their time in a cell waiting for someone to save them. Somebody eventually does, but escape is once again rooted in this mysticism that makes no sense and goes well beyond the usual level of "magic" in an Indiana Jones story. The ending even makes use of both the veils (to wipe Indy's memory) and divine intervention (by Merlin no less) to save Indy's life. The overabundance of confusing magical elements and drawn out explanations (that end up making little sense anyways) ruin what was otherwise an incredibly promising story.
Characters in this book are decent, but not spectacular. Indy is portrayed well, especially after his disastrous portrayal in the first book of the series. He is the clever, well meaning hero that we see in the movies, and in a particularly good early scene, we see him defend his friend Marcus Brody's work from Bernard and other unthinking critics. This scene does a great job of showing the foundation of his friendship with Brody, and shows Indy to be a decent man with a sense for new ideas and loyalty to his friends. I don't care for his relationship with Deirdre at all though, but this is because Deirdre is such a weak character. She doesn't have much of the wit or quirkiness of Indy's other love interests, and the on and off nature of their relationship for the first few chapters, followed by a Vegas style marriage, is more frustrating than dramatic. Rounding out the support characters are a mysterious driver, Hugo and Mr. Fawcett. Hugo is a character that only shows up for a short while in the middle of the book, but he is surprisingly loyal to Indy's cause, and seems like a character with an interesting backstory. Percy Fawcett on the other hand is a character that, for all the build up surrounding his significance, falls a bit short of impressing me. He is quite casual about what is going on, and seems to lack much of a personality, taking a backseat to Indy for finale of the book. It would have been interesting to see how a famous modern explorer interacted with the up and coming Indiana Jones, but we don't see anything regarding this dynamic, and ultimately his role in the story works much better in the premise than it does in execution.
There are a handful of antagonists at work, including Bernard (kind of a sniveling, low brow loser, but also a very fun character to root against,) some random thugs hired by Bernard as part of a plot to win a bet, a cannibal tribe of Indians, and the people of Ceiba. The book does a pretty good job with the antagonists despite the fact that we don't spend a lot of time in their head. The cannibals are a group that isn't explored much at all, but they certainly make for a frightening foe, and the thugs provide the requisite modern opposition that is quite important for an Indiana Jones story, even if they are a far cry from the Nazis or Soviets. Overall not a bad showing for characters, with some intriguing antagonists and decent supporting cast, but most importantly a strong rendition of Indy.
Writing is a similar style to the previous two books, but with one crucial difference in the tedious amounts of exposition we are subjected to in the book's final act, and the incredibly poor job done describing the dream sequences and other strange happenings. Fight scenes are just as much fun as ever, we get several chase scenes, a "tomb raiding" sequence, and a desperate escape via waterfall that is somewhat similar to the happenings in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. In particular, I loved the two high flying fight scenes, one above a cliff and the other inside an airplane. The author has an ear for fitting dialogue in these scenarios, and the proceedings are described in enough detail to be visualized, and enough flair to be enjoyed.
Unfortunately, after Indy and friends make their trek into the jungle, all the action tapers off and we are left with Indy and Deirdre sitting around and being subjected to the mysteries of Ceiba, without having to do much of anything themselves. These static passages of confusing exposition suck the momentum right out of the plot, in addition to being poorly handled. Back to back sequences in which Indy and Deirdre realize they are dreaming are handled so clumsily that any effect this revelation might have on the reader is negated by the heavy handed nature of the reveal. The comparatively slow pacing of the third act, spear headed by the exposition but also the fact that Indy and Deirdre just sit around for what feels like forever, along with the weird and poorly explained mythology, causes the prose to quickly sink to below average quality.
The Seven Veils is a frustrating book with plenty of potential, but a ridiculous third act undercuts an otherwise exciting book. There are a few other problems too, like the over dramatic relationship between Deirdre and Indy, and the uninteresting nature of Deirdre herself, but this book was well on its way to becoming a stand out until the slow and boring third act killed it. Not a completely worthless book, but not something I can advise reading either.