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bcI’m a sucker for free ebooks, from the monthly University of Chicago freebie to the collections from Harlequin, and don‘t always pay attention to what I’m downloading. When I clicked “Read Now” on Alex Archer’s The Babel Codex, downloaded free from Harlequin, I assumed it was another romance, albeit with an odd title. One of the drawbacks of ebooks is that the cover is never seen once you start reading.

The title and an old-testament period preamble suggest this is a suspense/romance or fantasy/romance, and the opening chapter seems to confirm that. An archeologist with her own TV show, Annja Creed is exploring tunnels in Ethiopia when she meets and takes an instant dislike to a radio DJ sent to work with her. A macguffin quickly appears, as do bad guys after it, and the chase is on.

Researching and deciphering ancient mysteries while keeping ahead of the bad guys reminded me of The Da Vinci Code and the Indiana Jones films, but this is lighter and faster paced. There are elements of fantasy, notably Annja’s sword, which she can summon from thin air on demand, but no romance. The DJ disappears about 2/3 of the way into the story, replaced by another helper character. It gradually dawned on me that this is a series, as a couple of characters are introduced with reference to past adventures. The ending was not particularly satisfying, though this is often the case when retrieving ancient treasures so I wasn’t disappointed. In these types of stories, getting there is all the fun.

The heroine is a refreshingly strong female figure, but she is almost completely asexual. She makes Clive Cussler’s heroes seem downright randy. On the other hand, all that running about in dark caves searching for treasure is sexual, a sword is masculine (especially since there is no sheath), and the gender symbolism of the climactic fight is intriguing. I may be reading too much into this story, but my university education taught me that every story has something to say about gender, even if the author didn’t intend to write about it. Should I draw any conclusions about the heroine’s apparent reluctance to kill while other good guys slaughter large numbers of evil henchmen? Not sure, though I was a little put off by the body count. However, the overall message seems to be that women can be as powerful and single minded as men.

Once I finished the story, I checked it out online. It is a series, called Rogue Angel (obvious from the cover), and this particular story is 43 ½ (no, I don’t understand the numbering). Alex Archer is a corporate author, but unlike the corporate authors working under the Stratemeyer syndicate, the real author is acknowledged in each book. According to other reviewers, the different authors have slightly different interpretations of the heroine, and there is apparently some character development over time. This was not great literature by any means, but more fun than reading a free newspaper when eating lunch in a mall food court.

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