Book Review: The Sunbird by Wilbur Smith

I loved this! Like reading an Indiana Jones movie (one of the good ones).

Being an archaeologist myself I’m immediately on board whenever there’s a story about an amazing discovery, hidden for thousands of years, waiting to be unearthed. Usually I dig into (pun very much intended) stuff like this with a big flashing neon sign of a reminder above my head, that a lot of things will probably not be quite right, but I tell myself it doesn’t have to be – I’m quite good at suspending belief and getting caught up in the story, so I don’t mind minor inaccuracies and artistic freedoms.

But Wilbur Smith isn’t the case of any of that. This is excellently researched and written, to the point where some of it is almost boring.

The plot of The Sunbird is simple: Archaeologist Ben Kazin is approached by his extraordinarily rich friend, Louren Sturvesant, who is claiming to have made a discovery. With him he has aerial photographs depicting the lost city of Opet. Louren sees the opportunity to make money out of an amazing discovery – and he wants to give Ben all the honor.

Of course, it’s not going to be as easy as they think. The African jungle can be a treacherous place, if they can even find the place where the city is supposed to be? And who can they really trust out there, after weeks of searching for ancient civilizations and treasure? Are they going to find what they’re looking for? Will Louren get his money’s worth for funding the expeditions? And will Ben make the discoveries he so desperately wants to be real?

And what really happened, to the lost city of Opet?

In a sense, this book is five different books at the same time. A gripping thriller, an action-filled adventure, a beautiful romance, a haunting mystery, and a fantasy epic. I felt like the story would never end, but in a good way, like I’d just started a 6-season mystery TV-show, with every episode being better than the next.

I was truly and well captivated, and I’m kind of surprised that I’ve never heard enough about Wilbur Smith to have read him before. I recognize the name, but had no idea what kind of books he wrote. I was very pleasantly surprised to realize it was this!

What really sold me on the story is the second half of the book, the part that serves a flashback from two thousand years ago, explaining how the city of Opet came to be what it once was, and how and why it disappeared. At first it was a bit jarring, and I thought maybe it was just going to be a short passage. But after a while I was truly lost in the story, and seeing how the pieces began to connect with the archaeological dig was beautiful.

Honestly, if you’re even remotely interested in archaeology, history, or ancient mysteries of any kind, you’re going to love this book. Well-written and engaging throughout.

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