Back in 2003 and 2004, during the period I’ve come to call “The Dark Ages”, Del Rey published three spin-off novels based on the popular Tomb Raider video game and film series. Core Design’s last Tomb Raider game, The Angel of Darkness, and Paramount’s The Cradle of Life had both failed to live up to expectations so the future of the franchise was already hanging in the balance when the first novel, Mike Resnick’s The Amulet of Power, was published.
Now that the franchise is going through its own Renaissance period and there’s a new Tomb Raider novel on the horizon, I thought it was a good time to revisit the Dark Ages and pick up a copy of The Amulet of Power to see if Tomb Raider can translate well to print.
Here’s the official synopsis:
Here at last – the first exciting book in a bold new series of Lara Croft novels tying directly into the popular video games. The Amulet of Power reveals the never-before shown events that took place between “The Last Revelation” and “Angel of Darkness.” Trapped beneath the ruins of an Egyptian tomb, Lara faces certain death…until fate intervenes and sets her on the trail of an ancient talisman of power.
Archaeologist and explorer Lara Croft travels the world in search of ancient relics, forgotten crypts, and lost cities. Highly trained for combat and possessing an insatiable appetite for adventure, she answers to no one and goes wherever the quest takes her – heedless of the danger.
When Lara turns up in the Middle East, despite the rumors of her death, religious fanatics believe she has located the coveted Amulet of Mareish. Lost since the siege of Khartoum, the amulet is rumored to grant the wearer untold power. Some long to possess it, others want to see it destroyed, and both sides pursue Lara relentlessly. While she fights trained warriors and ruthless mercenaries, and desperately searches for the jewel they all seek, one thing becomes clear: the fate of the world rests in the hands of… Lara Croft, Tomb Raider.
Sounds quite promising, doesn’t it?
Sadly, the book failed to live up to my expectations, and my expectations were fairly low to begin with. The only thing that prevented me from ditching it all together was the fact that I wanted to write this review. So, against my better judgement, I trudged my way through Amulet and heaved a sigh of relief when I reached the final page.
I don’t want to reveal too much of the plot just in case any of you are thinking of reading it yourselves, but please be warned that there may be minor spoilers ahead.
Amulet began as a fairly pleasant way to pass time during my daily commutes to and from the office. It wasn’t high literature but, then again, that was never the intention.
The novel picked up where The Last Revelation ended in a bid to bridge the gap between Lara’s apparent death and her appearance in Paris at the start of Angel of Darkness. We find out that Lara was rescued from the Temple of Horus and brought to a nearby hospital but, before long, she and her rescuer, the dashing Kevin Mason Jr., find themselves running for their lives as two mysterious warrior assassins try to kill Lara in her bed.
As the novel progresses, we discover that the men sent to kill her were Mahdists, religious fanatics who seek the legendary Amulet of Mareish (the titular Amulet of Power), and will stop at nothing to get their hands on it. Lara takes it upon herself to track down the amulet and destroy it before it lands in the wrong hands, a journey that sees her fighting her way through Upper Egypt, Sudan, Kenya, and eventually the Seychelles.
Resnick drew on real-life historic events, such as the Siege of Khartoum and the Mahdist Revolt, for inspiration but for all his effort, Amulet failed to really capture my interest and read like a lacklustre work of fan fiction (in fact, I’ve read way better fan fiction. It genuinely became a chore to finish.
So, what are my main complaints about the novel?
- Lara’s characterization – I found it hard to relate the in-novel Lara to the one from the Core Design games. There are moments when she says and does things completely out of character and the way she would spout off random facts (such as the depths of various African lakes) or criticize Islamic tradition in front of her Muslim allies really began to grate on my nerves. At times, I wondered if the author had ever played a single Tomb Raider game before writing Amulet as the Lara before me seemed nothing like the one in the games or even in the films.
- Repetition – The novel seems to be an almost endless chain of running away and attacking bad guys. Sure, this makes sense in a game but it really doesn’t translate well to print. There always seemed to be traitors around her…and just how many relatives can her three companions possibly have?
- Lack of detail – In my personal opinion, the author didn’t seem to go out of his way to describe Lara’s surroundings (any descriptions given seemed superficial at best) and I felt a lot more could have been done to incorporate real-life history into the plot. Yes, General Gordon and the Siege of Khartoum are central to the plot but Resnick doesn’t really elaborate on any of this in any great detail. There seemed to be a lot of wasted potential throughout Amulet. If you want to keep the reader hooked enough to care what happens in the next chapter, you need to evoke a scene that makes them feel immersed in the action. Otherwise, like me, they’re just going to stare out the train window or check their phone for new tweets…
- The dialogue – Almost every interaction Lara had with another human being seemed a little stilted and, on occasion, downright cheesey. The only mildly amusing scene I can recall is between her and a waiter onboard on a Nile cruise ship, where she was obviously trying to wind him up. The rest was forgettable and, at times, verging on cringeworthy. I was ready to scream at my E-reader if I read the line “You are Lara Croft” one more time. Honestly, there’s no need to keep reminding us who the protagonist is, even if she doesn’t really seem like her video game self.
- A bad romance – Love interests have no place in a Tomb Raider game or film as far as I’m concerned. Although Resnick managed to restrain himself, the hints of a fledgling romance between Lara and Kevin Mason Jr. were unnecessary and a little distracting. Our Lara has no time for that sort of thing, not when the fate of the world lies in her hands.
- The twist – I don’t want to reveal too much but I saw the twist coming from miles away. In fact, I figured it out just a couple of chapters into the novel. Disappointing…
Any upsides? Well, I suppose it was nice to see a Tomb Raider adventure set in Sudan (even if its long, rich history was barely touched upon by Resnick) and the final chapter, which was perhaps the best written in the whole novel, really set the stage for Lara’s meeting with Von Croy at the start of Angel of Darkness. It’s a shame that the rest of the novel wasn’t written this way as he did a far better job of portraying Lara’s character and state of mind after her near-death experience in Egypt in this one chapter than he did throughout the rest of Amulet.
Would I recommend this novel to other Tomb Raider fans? Not really. I’d say stick to the Top Cow and Dark Horse comics as they’re far more entertaining and will take up far less of your free time. Or just pick up a Dan Brown novel.
If my review has put you off buying the book, you can find an excellent summary of the plot over on the Tomb Raider Wiki site.
Have you read Amulet of Power? Do you agree with my review or do you think I’ve been too harsh? Feel free to share your thoughts below!