The Drowned Vault (Ashtown Burials, #2)
N. D. Wilson
Random House

When I get approved for an Advance Reader Copy (ARC) by the publisher and via netgalley, I have precisely 55 days in which to read my electronic copy before the digital rights management stuff kicks in and the book “expires.” When this one came through, I quickly had to read the first Ashtown Burials, The Dragon’s Tooth. And then I waited until I had about 10 days left…. This book clocks in at about 450 pages. Was I nuts?

Not at all. You see, I read The Drowned Vault, all 450 pages of it, in less than 24 hours. Yes, yes I did. And my husband and kids survived, were fed, clothed, and the kitchen is reasonably clean. Did I do anything else? NO. MUST. KEEP. READING. I knew that would happen and therefore waited until I had a day in which I could safely turn into a reading zombie. ☺

That’s the way Wilson’s books are. Mesmerizing, gripping, heart-stopping action, delight at all the million literary and cultural allusions he manages to throw out, terrific sibling dynamics, families with rich histories, … I jumped into all this knowing, knowing full well I tell you, that I would end this book and immediately “need” the third book. Which means I have to wait. (Sigh.) Precisely the reason I didn’t read The Dragon’s Tooth until I had The Drowned Vault in hand. There will be five in this series, and somehow Wilson manages to both wrap up the storyline from the current book and also leave you totally hanging….

In The Dragon’s Tooth, we met lots of old friends, or references to them: Long John Silver, Nolan–the thief who stole fruit from Gilgamesh, and many others. But we didn’t realize that some of the new friends were descended from other famous people…. Now, in The Drowned Vault, we realize that the world Wilson has constructed–with his semi-secret society The Order of Brendan, the transmortals (men and women who once were mortal but now will never die), and the Burials (which keep evil men and women imprisoned…but when they break free, they’re still alive after centuries–these are the really bad transmortals who’ve broken covenant)–this world can manage to contain all the famous people you’ve ever heard of and do it with your willing suspension of belief.

So, who do we meet (or hear about) in this tome? Gilgamesh + his best friend Enkidu, Ponce de Leon, Arachne, Dracula, Captain John Smith (yes, that “Smith” last name that Cyrus and Antigone sport is the Smith family), the relatives of David Livingstone, Daniel Boone, ….

The bad guys are pretty evil. The good guys are solid, if flawed. (Aren’t we all?!). No one good guy can do it alone; they must band together. The bad guys are all fighting inwardly and each thinks that he can go it alone. We have an epic final battle scene with fingernail biting instances, a nice wrap up, and the dreaded teaser about the next book (will I have to wait a WHOLE year??). I’m hopeful the few things that didn’t get wrapped up in this book, the few characters we barely got to know, the frayed edges of the tapestry–these will get worked into book 3 and I’ll be happy.

Wilson’s writing is, as usual, a wonderful experience. Sometimes fantasy gets you by simply whirling you away to a fantastic otherworldly place, or gives us a hero we can walk behind on his quest, or plunges us into some supernatural good v. evil fight. Wilson does that. But what sets his fantasy apart is the complexity of his plots, his characters, and the sheer craft he employs in his descriptions. For instance, here are a few quotations (keep in mind that these come from the ARC–not the final published copy…. they are for examples only of Wilson’s style, but might not be exactly the same when we can buy this gem):

  • For Cyrus, it crept by like a snail parade.
  • Moving along, Dixie hurried through continents of moon shadow and seas of moon silver….Down the slope, smothered in moonlight, the Mississippi River slid slowly past on its belly. Tonight, with the moon being so social, it looked like a river of mercury.
  • Crossing that sprawling building was like wandering through a badly organized library on top of a badly organized museum, intermingled with a village or two and an extremely well-organized junk yard.

Suffice it to say, Wilson’s work is well worth reading and the Ashtown Burials Series is holding up his standard nicely. See The Dragon’s Tooth review for more info on this series.

Definitely a recommended read for the middle school crowd and up.

Cover image from goodreads; ARC from netgalley
Look for this in stores in two weeks and in libraries soon thereafter