Unearthed by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner

“There’s a time for study and planning and waiting and going over every detail, like you do, and there’s a time for answers, but sometimes you have to go by your gut, your—”

I’m interrupted by a shower of rocks and a shout… I can see some of Jules’s face in the half light left by the mirrors high overhead. His dilemma is so clearly written there that my heart aches for him. And in that moment I know what to do.

‘Sometimes you have to go on instinct,” I whisper.

 

Gaia is supposed to be a brand new hope for humanity.

An Earth-like planet, with similar gravity, atmosphere, and oxygen composition, Gaia would be a colonist’s dream on a normal day. The true draw to the planet, however, is its link to an extinct, highly-advanced alien race, dubbed (somewhat ironically) “the Undying.” Evidence of The Undying has been discovered by humanity in fragments and traces—in a signal of unknown origin as well as a relic that has the ability to power entire cities and portals that allow for interstellar travel. The Undying’s message points humankind towards Gaia for answers—and, desperate for resources and hungry for answers, Earth is eager to take anything it can from the planet.

Gaia’s first exploration, however, proved to be fraught with peril.

The inital explorers met with horrific ends while trying to explore the planet’s major temple—putting quite the damper on human excavation. The hesitation for rapid colonization, however, means that the planet is fair game for enterprising scavengers.

Enter Amelia “Mia” Radcliffe—a scavenger on a mission from a larger buyer and boss to ransack and raid the major temple on Gaia. A cunning sneak-thief from the streets of overpopulated Chicago, Mia is desperate to make a large haul that could mean freedom for herself and her younger sister.  Things don’t go according to plan, however, when she runs into other raiders (armed, trained, and deadly), and a completely hapless, out-of-place young man named Jules Addison. A genius and the son of the infamous scholar who most memorably snapped on live television, warning that The Undying are not at all what they appear, Jules is on a singular mission to continue his father’s work. The broadcast signal from The Undying points at a temple on the planet—but also a warning. Jules is desperate to clear his father’s name, save the planet, and solve the mystery of the long gone alien race.

And so, unlikely allies Mia and Jules will face booby trapped temples, decipher ancient riddles, and outrun ruthless mercinaries in order to reach their bounty. (And they might just develop feelings for each other along the way.)

The newest novel from the prolific team of Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner, Unearthed is a whole lot of fun. I’ve read and enjoyed Kaufman and Spooner’s work before—in particular These Broken Starsso Unearthed is familiar territory. Like the authors’ Starbound series, Unearthed is told in alternating first person point of view chapters in the voices of Amelia and Jules. The tropes are familiar—Mia is a (hot) outsider and rebel with a chip on her shoulder, Jules is a (hot) goodie-goodie, educated rich boy, carying his own torch. They meet cute on the surface of an alien planet, and instantly mistrust but are attracted to each other—of course, both of them are keeping the secret as to why they are really on Gaia, and when that truth comes out it’s all the melodramatic romantic fireworks.

For all that Amelia and Jules’s relationship is entirely manufactured and doesn’t even attempt to pivot from its deeply rooted boy-meets-girl trope origins, Kaufman and Spooner somehow manage to make the characters tolerable—heck, even likeable. Mia’s motivation for scavenging is for money, sure, but her real desperation stems from the fact that she has a sister. In a world where multiple children are outlawed, thanks to overcrowding and resource dwindling, Mia’s younger sis does not have the right to live—and her life has been bought up by a club that forces her to work in whatever position they demand. Similarly, Jules’s motives are altruistic and rooted in his desire to save his family and the world—as the preiminent scholar on The Undying’s language, culture, and history, Jules is Earth’s only hope—should his father’s research prove correct.

Of course, the real draw to Unearthed is in it’s “Indiana Jones in outer space with teenagers!” handle—at least, that’s why I picked up the book—and so how does that all hold up? Well. The book does involve a series of progressively harder booby traps on the way to the treasure room, and a father-son legacy of solving those riddles, so in that sense it totally is Last Crusade-ish. Unfortunately, the riddles in Unearthed are pretty simplistic and are liberally lifted from other films—there’s the bridge from the aforementioned Last Crusade, a little bit of The Goonies with some music playing/room crumbling cliffs, some Die Hard with a Vengeance with regards to a certain water math problem… ultimately, Unearthed feels a lot more like The Goonies or National Treasure of space temple exploration, as opposed to Indiana Jones. (That’s not a slam on Unearthed—I happen to thoroughly enjoy National Treasure and The Goonies—but you know what I mean, right?)

The book’s most interesting parts are, sadly, the most underdeveloped parts: I wanted to know more about Earth and its collapse (and why an organization would be as brutal as it is in the book on the hunt for resources). I wanted to understand The Undying’s broadcast a little more and spend a greater amount of time with the temple engravings and translations—but sadly, the “mercenaries are on our tails, we have to KEEP MOVING” trope handily ensured that no deeper exploration of the alien culture could happen. The novel’s ending and big reveal was a little obvious (at least to this reader), and ends on an annoying cliffhanger—that said, all grumbling aside, I’ll be back to see what happens in book two.

In Book Smugglerish, 6 Fibonnaci Spirals out of 10.

 

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