Rating: 9 out of 10.

‘Travelers’ was a full-length novel, book one of the ‘Nel Bentley Series’. I received this book on Kindle for free for an honest and unbiased review. We see that this book was self-published in 2016, the cover is attractive and shows an award the author won from the ‘Readers Favourite‘ and it won 5*, this is endorsed on their website, and they show the book with the sticker on the cover. The sticker is downloadable from their website to input into a website, but without their authorisation that individual would not be endorsed by ‘Readers Favourite’, which could affect an author’s reputation.

As found from ‘Disciples’, Holmes utilises their extensive education and knowledge in archaeology, communicating this expertly in ‘Travelers’, there is an extensive glossary at the back of the book with all the archaeological terms, which is very helpful while reading. At the beginning of the book is a page or two of praise by two authors and a book reviewer from Rainbow Book Reviews, all very positive and supportive. The language used is appropriate for an adult audience, as well as passionate scenes, I would think someone who has a curios nature would like the education this novel provides, as well as the intricate plot. I found myself Googling certain words that I wasn’t familiar with, or using the rear glossary as I wanted to have a good understanding of what I was reading, so then I could feel as if I could have actually been there with the characters.

Including a page with all of Holmes’ other works, there is also a note from the author, explaining why they have chosen to write books about archaeology, acknowledging that the premise is similar to works of Indiana Jones fourth film. This is a respectful acknowledgement, and I got the feeling that writing and archaeology mean a lot to the author. This acknowledgement is then followed by a visual birds-eye view of the dig site that ‘Travelers’ refers to, a nice bit of detail that adds character and depth to the book, making it more real in the readers mind, a good visual guide.

As we start the first chapter, we are immediately hit with drama, the main character’s dig site has been vandalised. The scene is set in Chile, and we find out that rather than being generally upset, the main character is angry.

“She ducked under the rope serving as a barrier. A poor one, she mentally snarled…”. (p. 1)

As the main character, Nel, checks out the dig site when arriving back one morning, she finds vandalism in an attempt to slow her progress down in her research. We read that she is highly driven to just move on quickly, even though these people who vandalised seem to be doing this regularly by individuals called ‘The Founders’. The author’s main passion is her work in the field, and I understood this perfectly as the book follows her diagnostics, documentation and her methodology, which was a really nice touch, and I can feel the authors passion through the pages.

‘The Founders’ sounds rather ominous, and foreshadows the politics aspect of the book, giving the reader the impression that when scientists and archaeologists work in certain areas, this kind of criminal action occurs frequently. I would imagine that it would depend on the circumstances, but as someone who knows nothing about archaeology, I appreciated this, and it opened my eyes to the potential dangers that surround this type of work. I think most people have a romanticised view of archaeology, due to Indiana Jones, but Holmes really wanted to hit home that: it’s hard work. It’s not all jumping out of windows, discovering artifacts in perfect condition and discovering ancient tombs that have been kept a secret for thousands of years.

We see the main character develop through the story in a really interesting manner. She’s a bit of a tough nut, doesn’t take any rubbish from anyone, including the students who are assigned to her dig and she has to teach them as they work through their respective degrees. Nel appears to dislike handling the students, and her best friend, and oldest colleague, Mikey is able to coach her in how to best manage them, and be able to reach them. Nel respects her colleague very much, and throughout the book we see that they have a really strong friendship and how this evolved over the years that they have known each other. I felt that when he had strong words with her about her bossy attitude towards the students and not letting them take agency over their work, this was very realistic and a conversation that definitely would occur between two friends.

Nel had been on this dig site for 3 years, in high temperatures dealing with local vandals where gin is one of the few things that cools her down in the evenings – so of course the main character is going to be stubborn, irritable and generally difficult to deal with, because she has been so isolated for so long.
Naturally you would get tired when your life IS your job.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the drama of the dig site: they were being vandalised nearly every day. Tools went missing and the site was messed up regularly, nothing that seriously worried the characters. So when the scientists go out to celebrate an interesting find, the tension is amped up by Nel finding a dead mouse in her food. She felt this was a direct attack on her, as she knew and trusted the restaurant, so she deducted that someone put this mouse in her food deliberately. Even though she knew the manager, something here did not sit right with me, and I felt uneasy on behalf of the characters, I knew that something else was going to happen. And happen it did.

Later we experience while Nel and Mikey are scouting for more interesting landmarks or potential dig sites when they are confronted face to face with The Founders, who seize all of their work they have on their person… and they’re armed. Now, to me this was alarming, but I feel that my feelings of panic wasn’t quite communicated to the main character. Nel just appeared to be more irritable. There was an element of fear, but I feel that Holmes was setting our strong, female protagonist up for a big fall, and this method of foreshadowing was quite effective, and had me saying out loud “why is she not more affected by this? I would be absolutely bricking it”. The excitement the two main character’s feel when discovering the pink rock was palpable, and feeling the dread that followed soon after contrasted beautifully with the feeling of calm – it tricks the reader into a false sense of security.

Nel did fall, she lost Mikey and she fell into a deep depression that she felt could be covered over by drinking. Capturing such a realistic human reaction to the loss of a loved one was done really well, and her recovery involved an external character, someone who is a mystery to Nel, a female character whom Nel is attracted to. Holmes shows a relationship that blossoms between our main character and this new female character, and it seemed really well-paced after the loss of her best friend. The relationship seemed natural for Nel to seek comfort during her grief, which is a natural human reaction (DeFord and Gilbert) in response to the grief of losing someone.

Regarding this ‘whirlwind romance’, I felt that having an intimate scene that was as drawn out as 50 Shades of Smut would have felt lazy and uninspired, but the brief flash the reader got of Nel’s intimate night was very tasteful and done very well. I was glad that it didn’t draw on for pages and pages – that would have been boring. I did reread it a couple of times to imagine it in my head and then reeled from the realism of the actions and the emotions of the characters.

The rest of the story line just flowed very well, Nel finds out more about her mystery woman, and is intrigued by her and somehow appears to trust her. The book’s overall pace is steady, there is a lot to pick up on regarding the politics of the local vandals: I feel there is a whole other story behind The Founders, and it will be really interesting to see if Holmes might write about this in the future. I can understand that an indigenous people would feel that their land and their home is being invaded by others who appear to want to just take advantage. I have related to similar instances (although not in the same league) where I petitioned against my local greenbelt by my home to be turned into commercial land. That protective feeling of one’s home is very real, and all across the world over the last few hundred years there has been plenty of evidence to support that people will speak out, run rallies and think that even killing is justifiable.

Recommendation

This book has a lot of promise for the continuation of the series, and I would 100% recommend this book if you appreciate Sci-Fi and archaeology as there was a real sense of pride beaming from the pages, which was a lovely feel from Holmes. The illustrations at the beginning of the book is a nice reference for the reader, as helps as a visual guide to see the scenes unfolding in the minds eye, as well as a good amount of appropriate references regarding the archaeological tools and geology talked about between the characters. If you like books with action and passion, there is plenty of it here!

Travelers Summary

Theme: This book is a Sci-Fi with an archaeological theme, we find out more about the extraterrestrial influence toward the end of the book, adding more depth to the plot.

Description: The reader builds attachments to the side characters as well, and I felt very drawn into Nel’s world through her past, how isolated she’s been and how desperate she seems to want to connect with someone. When the main character does finally connect with someone, I felt a sense of relief and joy on her behalf. How does one know a story is good? By making you root for the welfare of the characters!

Narration: As we saw in ‘Disciples’ Holmes uses truncated sentences well to make points in the plot or to hit home something that may have been overlooked. It was very well done. he book is narrated through a 3rd person view, namely focusing on the main character: Nel.

The Author

V.S. Holmes

V. S. Holmes is an international bestselling author. They created the ‘Reforged’ series and the ‘Nel Bentley’ books. Smoke and Rain, the first book in their fantasy quartet, won New Apple Literary’s Excellence in Independent Publishing Award in 2015 and a Literary Titan Gold Award in 2020.

When not writing, they work as a contract archaeologist throughout the northeastern U.S. They live in a tiny house with their spouse, a fellow archaeologist, their not-so-tiny dog, and own too many books for such a small abode. As a disabled and queer human, they work as an advocate and educator for representation in SFF worlds.

References

DeFord, B., Gilbert, R., (2013) ‘Living, Loving and Loss: The Interplay of Intimacy, Sexuality and Grief’. 1st Ed, Routledge Press.

Holmes, V.S. (2016) ‘Travelers’. Amphibian Press Publishers.

Rainbow Book Review

Readers Favourite Review

V.S. Holmes Website