Cleopatra Fraser is a scholar who has been assisting her father on archeological expeditions for as long as she can remember. The whole family, including her mother and two sisters, moved from place to place whenever Everett Fraser could get funding from patrons to finance his search for Alexander the Great's tomb (Alexander the Great being her father’s lifelong obsession).
At the age of sixteen, Cleo meets Azrael David Evans (nicknamed “Angel”) who has finagled a position as Everett Fraser's assistant. Amidst the turmoil of her duties as camp manager, her mother's illness and subsequent death (and belly dancing lessons) she falls madly and passionately in love with David as only an adolescent can. David and Everett Fraser have clashed from the very beginning and eventually things come to the point where David must leave the expedition.
Thinking she will never see him again, Cleo decides to have one night of passion. Cleo confesses all to her father the next day and sets into motion events that give a whole new meaning to the term "Big Misunderstanding". So begins a ten-year rivalry between Cleo and Angel in search of Alexander's tomb, with one or the other coming out on top through the years.
And that’s just the backstory. The main tale takes place in Scotland surrounding the dedication of a newly built university. There is a historical symposium with all the antiquities and scholars of note participating, complete with exhibits of historical treasures excavated by the Frasers (which of course Cleo single-handedly organizes), a secret society sworn to protect the whereabouts of Alexander's tomb (descendents of his personal guard), a host of secondary characters and romances, and a younger sister who seems to be the smartest in the bunch and hellbent on following in Cleo's footstep in the adventure department. What you wind up with is a very disjointed tale that sometimes would try the patience of saint with all the haphazard directions and tangents it goes off into.
The heroine in this book scared me to death. She was so capable, forward thinking, intellectually brilliant in her field, (archeology with a preference for Egypt; after all, her name is Cleopatra). Part of me enjoyed this book a great deal and part of me was so in awe of Cleo’s character that I had to stop myself from genuflecting while reading. I mean, this woman had done it all: fought off desert bandits and grave robbers, single-handedly dug people out of a collapsed tomb, rescued the hero from a fortress and is a talented belly dancer. I'm thinking Lady Hester Stanhope on steroids.
The real story, in spite of the antics between David and Cleo, was between Cleo and her father. Everett Fraser made his reputation as a scholar and archeologist by taking credit for his daughter's work and somehow conveying the impression that she should be grateful to him for doing so. In addition, this father has no compunction about pushing his daughter to be "nice" to Sir Edward (their financial patron). That capable Cleo would be content with this and purposely misunderstand exactly what being "nice" entails was a bit confusing. Never are the dynamics between Cleo and her father given the attention that this relationship almost demanded, it's just sort of skimmed over at various times.
In spite of all this I enjoyed reading this book. David was a lively and engaging character. Any man who gets turned on by the sight of a woman (Cleo) in a pith helmet, split riding skirt and carrying a rifle is worth his weight in gold relics. However, I just can't get around things like, how come David didn't know he was sleeping with a 16-year-old in spite of being her father's assistant for weeks? And when Cleo’s father calmly tells there is no harm in being "nice" to Sir Edward, because after all, she is ruined and a whore, well…let’s just say quiet, smoldering anger and acceptance of this attitude is one I can't fathom.
On the lighter side the love scenes are nicely handled, with Cleo once again taking charge. There are no disappearing articles of clothing in this exchange. Each layer is dealt with sensuously and in some instances humorously.
This is the third book I've read by this author, and having thoroughly enjoyed The Price of Innocence and The Gates of Hell I fully expected to enjoy this effort also. For the most part I did, thought the jumps between flashback and present story are a bit confusing at times. If you would enjoy reading a kaleidoscope of interesting images, shapes and textures that aren’t well connected but are fascinating anyway, then you may well enjoy this story. If however, you prefer some method to the madness, then I urge you to proceed with caution.