Battered but unbowed after their last adventure (The City of Sand, 2017), grave robbers Tianyi and Kai match wits against a new cast of supernatural beings.
While helping their friend Gold Tooth with his Beijing market antiques stall, they meet a farmer from Shaanxi hoping to sell a valuable Ming dynasty shoe. Tianyi, Kai, and Gold Tooth immediately head west, fired up by the farmer’s tales of treasure-filled tombs in his hometown. Risking life and limb in a maze of haunted caves populated by gigantic spiders—which they end up fleeing clad only in their underthings—Tianyi and Kai are horrified to find their backs marked with a mysterious symbol. Chinese-American archaeologist Julie Yang returns to China reporting that both she and Professor Chen, whose desert expedition the teens led in the previous book, also bear this sign. Julie relates the story of an early-20th-century grave robber whose quest holds clues to this mystery—and, finally, a chance meeting with a blind fortuneteller/con artist points to an expedition in Volume 3 that will tie everything together. The episodic story structure with its delayed resolution may be intriguing to Western readers in its contrast to typical thriller fare, and the blend of derring-do, horror, humor, and a rich invented mythology will sustain interest. The dialogue is refreshingly snark-free, and the boys are considerate of others and respect the behavior code of their profession. Most characters are Han Chinese, but some slightly stereotypical white foreigners feature.
Lively and engaging. (Thriller. 11-15)