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Rogue Angel 6: The Lost Scrolls2 stars

[Spoilers, like you care.]

In Annja Creed’s world, being an archaeologist puts you at greater risk to life and limb than walking through South Central LA wearing a sandwich board proclaiming “I’m unarmed and carrying $100K in small bills!” I suspect most real-life diggers don’t commonly find themselves suddenly cut to ribbons by a platoon of balaclava-wearing goons spraying all and sundry with SMGs. That’s probably because in reality, if you were to, say, unearth some scrolls that survived the burning of the Library of Alexandria, which possibly revealed ancient Atlantean energy secrets, and if, for instance, the biggest oil and energy megacorp in all of Europe wanted to get their hands on those scrolls, they’d probably just buy them from you. A few million bucks is petty cash to an oil company. But to cash-strapped academics, it could fund several years of digs. Why not take the easy route?

This is another Victor Milán contribution to Gold Eagle’s Rogue Angel series, the sixth book overall. I guess I keep reading these, where every other SF critic of note is ignoring them, because what Lovecraft referred to as “some imp of the perverse” keeps me hoping I’ll get a really good one someday. Also, they’re quick junk-food reading, perfect to slip between more highbrow fare. Believe it or not, snobby jerks like me enjoy those too.

Each volume has had entertainment value to some degree. But inconsistencies in the series’ overall mythology (sometimes the supernatural is only hinted at, sometimes it parades through the story like an especially garish Mardi Gras float), and the decision to keep the action scenes always at a comic book/video game level rather than anything even semi-realistic, is, I think, what’s keeping the series consistently second-tier among the fandom who’d buy books like these. After this much time, some cable network should have optioned the series by now. That they haven’t, when cheese-TV’s curdled history is sprinkled with such offerings as Witchblade and Relic Hunter (which admittedly were not ratings champions), would seem to indicate Rogue Angel hasn’t made an impression even among that segment of the entertainment industry whose standards are low on general principles.

So Annja finds herself in possession of said scrolls, protecting a snarky and bratty young chippie — who happens to be an expert on languages modern and ancient — from the heinous designs of said oil company, whose minions, made up of the usual redshirts, pursue the ladies around the globe. I actually liked the girl Jadzia a bunch. But then, another frustrating thing about this series has been the way it introduces appealing supporting characters whom we’re destined never to see again. So I suppose I shouldn’t get my hopes up she’ll become a regular. Milán’s writing, on the whole, is much better here than in his lazy phoning in of The Chosen. His action scenes here are among the series’ best, and by “best” I mean “least ridiculous.” Granted, we’re still in movieland. But at least Annja isn’t bringing down helicopters with grappling hooks or duking it out with demon-possessed bikini models. Most commendably, when it comes to using that magical Jeanne d’Arc sword of hers, she actually uses it properly, and not just as a big swatter. Annja slices her way through hapless bad guys here like Jason Voorhees’ sister after too many espressos.

Which is why it’s a pity Milán’s storytelling decisions are so damn dumb. Remember that implausible premise I mentioned up there in my first paragraph? Well, Milán considers the matter himself, and chooses to resolve the question of just why an undeniably ultra-high-profile oil company — whose decisions cannot possibly go unnoticed by major governments and the UN General Assembly itself — is acting like S.P.E.C.T.R.E. from the Bond movies by what feels like the feeblest of narrative cheats.

Moreover, the book’s deus ex climax devalues Annja’s role as the heroine of her own series (very much like what Milán pulled in The Chosen, prompting me to wonder why he even took this writing assignment if he hates the series’ protagonist so much). Whatever was the point of all this globetrotting and frantic bullet-dodging if all that was needed to make the whole problem go away was a single phone call to that real rogue, Garin Braden? It’s as if Star Wars had ended with Princess Leia suddenly putting in a call to a character who’d sat out the whole movie, and within a day he’d transferred a few funds and persuaded the Empire to stand down and the Death Star to fly away. 

Followed by God of Thunder.