has also reviewed:

Reflections in the Nile

 
Shadows on the Aegean
by J. Suzanne Frank
(Warner, $23.00, PG) ISBN 0-446-52090-X
**
Shadows on the Aegean is the sequel to Suzanne Frank's ripping good novel of last year, Reflections in the Nile. It takes up where Nile left off, following the further adventures of those hapless, time-traveling lovers, Chloe and Cheftu.

Ah sequels! They rarely do live up to their originals, do they? Someday, some smart person will sit down and try to puzzle out the laws of sequels, why some succeed and others don't. But until then, off the top of my poor little head, I will guess that a good sequel doesn't merely recycle the original elements, but make them stronger, richer.

But there's the rub. It's a risky business, artistically speaking, to try to duplicate the magic of the original. Often, an author has already given the material her best shot, so one has to at least tip one's hat to the author for even trying. After all, once in a while, the Muse smiles and you get something worthy of the original.

Unfortunately, Shadows on the Aegean doesn't quite pass muster.

To give Aegean credit, it doesn't merely recycle the same story as Nile, but blasts off into new territory, both geographic and imaginative. When last we saw Chloe, she had entered a time vortex, attempting to escape Ancient Egypt and return to her own time. But in Aegean, we discover that Chloe has taken a wrong-turn on the space-time continuum, and ended up hundreds of years earlier, in the fabled civilization of Atlantis.

While this seems to be a dandy idea on theory, it flounders mightily in execution. In fact, unless I had previously read Nile, I wouldn't have had a clue what was happening in Aegean.

One of the things I liked best about Nile was the heroine, Chloe Kingsley. In the prior book, she was funny and vulnerable, a comedic heroine who had stumbled into a magnificent fish-out-of-water story. But in Aegean, one could hardly tell Chloe was supposed to be the main character. For scores and scores of pages she is "hibernating" in the body of a Minoan priestess, sharing it with the occupant. When Chloe does play reveille, stirring from her interminable beauty sleep, she immediately begins dispensing the Chloesque bon mots. But whereas before her comments formed a witty travelogue, now they have the irritatingly hollow quality of sit-com wisecracks.

Another of the elements I admired in the original story was Chloe's believable initiation into Ancient Egypt. But because Chloe is "hibernating" in the crucial opening chapters, we don't experience her unique point of view. Even after her character is activated, I felt distant and alienated. Her sorrow over parting from Cheftu hardly seems convincing, and her first reaction to her new surroundings is "Cool. I'm a Minoan." A plucky quip from a hip heroine, to be sure. But a believable emotional response? No.

Meanwhile, Lord Cheftu, Chloe's lover has landed in the same time period, but again in Egypt. He, however, while always a respectably beta type of guy, has degenerated into such a drippy dullard that if I hadn't been clued in, I would not have recognized him as hero material.

As for the romance between Chloe and Cheftu, well, suffice to say that it doesn't move forward in this book. For much of the book, the lovers are separated, and Cheftu believes Chloe dead. When he finally meets up with her, she is unfortunately inhabiting another body, which is quite conveniently beautiful. Chloe's challenge in the relationship, therefore, is to convince Cheftu of who she is. Though why Chloe continues to bother began to mystify me, especially after the crisis of "Is Cheftu Gay," and eventually I wanted to yell at Chloe and remind her that there are lots of other fish in the Aegean sea.

As for the setting, I was quite disappointed in the world Frank fabricated for the story. Whereas Nile presented a rich, colorful depiction of Ancient Egypt, the no less magnificent Minoan civilization gets a short shift. Instead of lavish detail, the Minoan world is presented in small, tantalizing snapshots, brief glimpses that never quite gel into a Minoan Gestalt.

Furthermore, Aegean is simply populated with too many confusing and poorly delineated characters. I simply couldn't tell Character A from Character B from Character C, all of whom seem to be young and beautiful.

All their bed-hopping and back-stabbing unhappily reminded me of a sort of Ancient Mediterranean Melrose Place. That is unfortunate, since the bulk of the book deals with the various doings of these other characters, tap dancing away while Chloe and Cheftu rub the sleep from their eyes.

So, as far as romance fans are concerned, Shadows on the Aegean is an underwhelming achievement. It neither stands on its own as a novel, or lives up to the original. But because Suzanne Frank earned so much goodwill with Nile, I am willing to believe Aegean is the product of the dreaded contractual treadmill. Likely she simply didn't have time to create the rich tapestry and thoughtful characters readers have come to expect from her. But because I expect this, I am certain I will read Suzanne Frank again.

--Meredith Moore


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