Travels in Elysium by William Azuski

I was invited to read Travels in Elysium by the publisher and so I went to the Kindle Store to check out the free sample. Judging by the size of the sample the book was clearly substantial and yes, it turned out to be 540 Kindle pages which by my reckoning is a good 200,000 words. I haven’t read a really long novel for ages apart from my unfinished efforts to read War and Peace (996 Kindle pages actually) so I downloaded the free sample and began to read Travels in Elysium. After a few introductory descriptive pages of an earthquake / volcanic eruption, the protagonist Nick Pedrosa is introduced and you are straightaway drawn into his story. He has a background in Classics and has landed a job as a sort of Personal Assistant / Apprentice to renowned archaeologist Marcus Huxley at a massive excavation on a small Greek island.

Under Huxley’s leadership, a team of archaeologists and students are involved in finding and revealing the site of an ancient city submerged beneath thousands of tons of volcanic ash. Unfortunately, Nick joins the team at the same time as his predecessor is being buried in an unconventional manner with a lot of unanswered questions about his death. By this point in the free sample I was engaged with the story; intrigued by where it might be going; fascinated by the details about the island and Greek culture and absorbed by the emerging characterisation. So I paid the full price of £6+ and downloaded the whole book. Please note, I don’t usually pay anywhere near this amount for Kindle books so I had high expectations that this book was going to be worth the outlay!

Although in the course of the book you learn a lot about archaeology, Time Team this is not! At one point Nicolas notes that you are as likely to find a gun in an archaeologist’s bag as a brush and chisel. (Or something like that anyway.) One of the strengths of the book is the characterisation of the Team: bullying Marcus, druggy Sam, lovestruck Anna, grumpy Hadrian and ever obliging Nestor are all fully developed characters along with a supporting cast of local island dignitaries, archaeology groupies and ancient philosophers. You also learn a lot about Greek culture ancient and modern; well, modern up to the era of the military Junta in the late sixties - early seventies anyway. And you also learn a considerable amount about Greek philosophers and their influence on more recent thinking and the concept of mystical isles and journeys to the “other side”.

The storyline of the novel is fairly straightforward: Nick lands his new job; he travels to the island; he gets to know the boss and his new colleagues; he starts to understand what’s going on in the excavation and in the process he starts to know himself. However, this is one of the most complex, interesting, challenging and thought provoking books I’ve read for a long time and I thought it was brilliant. Author William Azuski has taken the long route to explore his story and given himself the time to let the story build up slowly to its amazing denouement. That’s not to say that the novel is in any way boring: to the contrary in parts it races forwards with an almost frenzied need to get to the answers. Which brings me to possibly the most interesting aspect of the novel: the way the author has handled time.  It wasn’t until I’d got right to the end of the novel that I realised how cleverly this had been done; while reading it, there were places where I thought some tough editing was needed and as everything else was so good couldn’t understand why it hadn’t been done. But at the end I realised what a masterly trick the author plays with time and how cleverly he uses it to take the reader into other worlds with complete conviction and credibility.

This novel isn't a quick, easy read; it explores some fundamental questions about life and death and the meaning of truth. As a reader you have to concentrate and at times work quite hard to follow the plot and understand the significance of events but it is well worth the effort. The writing in places is beautifully poetic and the descriptive passages conjure up vivid and original images. I don't regret spending (in terms of both cash and time) much more than usual on the book and I'm pleased it was brought to my attention; it really is a wonderful novel and I hope it receives the critical acclaim it deserves.

Get more details about Travels in Elysium on William Azuski's Author page at Amazon UK or Amazon USA.