Debbie's World of Books
My book reviews, book news & random rants

Land of Marvels by Barry Unsworth

February 25th, 2009 by Debbie's World of Books


I already know many people will disagree with me but I would only give this book a 2 out of 5 star rating.


Barry Unsworth, a writer with an “almost magical capacity for literary time travel” (New York Times Book Review) has the extraordinary ability to re-create the past and make it relevant to contemporary readers. In Land of Marvels, a thriller set in 1914, he brings to life the schemes and double-dealings of Western nations grappling for a foothold in Mesopotamia (now Iraq) in the dying days of the Ottoman Empire.

Somerville, a British archaeologist, is excavating a long-buried Assyrian palace. The site lies directly in the path of a new railroad to Baghdad, and he watches nervously as the construction progresses, threatening to destroy his discovery. The expedition party includes Somerville’s beautiful, bored wife, Edith; Patricia, a smart young graduate student; and Jehar, an Arab man-of-all-duties whose subservient manner belies his intelligence and ambitions. Posing as an archaeologist, an American geologist from an oil company arrives one day and insinuates himself into the group. But he’s not the only one working undercover to stake a claim on Iraq’s rich oil fields.

Historical fiction at its finest, Land of Marvels opens a window on the past and reveals its lasting impact.

I had high hopes because the synopsis sounded so interesting and I read great reviews of the book.  However, I found the story dragged on and on bogged down by too many details about things of no real importance to the story.  I expected more emphasis on Somerville’s excavation and the search for his big Assyrian discovery.  I also thought there would be more details about the evolving relationships between the various characters.  Everything seemed to fall into place without much interaction between anyone so it really did not hold my interest.

I really had to struggle to make it through to the end of the book and have to admit I was skimming for probably the last 20 pages.

Posted in 2 Star Books, Books, Historical Fiction

Leave a Comment

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment.