Review: “Yampellec’s Idol,” Skyla Dawn Cameron

Rating: 5 out of 5

Livi Talbot’s world has woken up to magic. Thanks to the Pulse a few years back–not that anyone seems to understand what it actually was–magic has returned to the world. It isn’t on every street-corner as in many urban fantasy books; nor is it focused on vampires, shape-shifters, and faeries. Instead, it seems to be elements of folklore and local mythology around the world that are waking up to what they are. Livi’s job as a freelance treasure hunter takes her to dangerous places and sometimes puts her right in the path of local magics–but she wouldn’t give it up for the world. Even though it does take her away from her young daughter, Emaleth (Em).

Skyla Dawn Cameron’s Yampellec’s Idol is book 5 of her Livi Talbot series. There’s a lot of character drama and growth in this series, so I highly recommend starting with book one, Solomon’s Seal [review] and reading the whole series. It’s absolutely worth it! It’s magical, it’s filled with adventure, and sometimes it gets dark as hell.

Livi is still recovering from finding out that Dale West, a mysterious man she’s been falling for, has been lying to her for the entire time she’s known him. Em was conceived when Livi was quite young, on a party night that Livi doesn’t remember. Now she’s seen video evidence that she was seen arm-in-arm with Dale there, even though as far as she knows she didn’t meet him until recently. Clearly he’s been lying to her–but what exactly is he hiding? And could he really be Em’s father? When Livi drags herself to her daughter’s school to meet with a teacher, she’s waylaid by her mother, who’s been out of her life since she was quite young. Her mother seems anxious to meet her, and has a somewhat different version of events than the one Livi’s dad told her and her brother. She also wants to hire Livi to help her find an idol in Peru. On the one hand, Livi really needs to be there more for her daughter. On the other hand, she’s desperate to work to keep her mind off of what’s been happening. So she packs up her family, friends, and team (even Iluka Grantham comes along), and heads to Peru with her mother. From there, strange things are afoot, and she starts to find clues to what she’s looking for much faster than seems reasonable.

This book broke my heart several times over. I had a book hangover for at least a full day during which I couldn’t bring myself to start reading a new book. I was desperate after the last one to read this one, and oh wow did it deliver. Absolutely, positively worth the wait. There’s some great dark humor (opening line: “So there I was, trying to outrun a chupacabra.”), a wonderful array of interesting characters, and fantastic high-tension adventure. I don’t quite find myself wanting to say there’s a touch of horror, but sometimes it does blur the line. Certainly it gets dark!

The characters are so wonderful. Livi is a single mom who became pregnant as a teen, and who has real family problems. Her best friend Pru, who has MS, is almost like a second mother to Em. Denny, Livi’s ex-highschool boyfriend, insists on treating Em as though he’s her father, even though Livi has made it clear he isn’t. He and Livi even worked out visitation because he and Em are so good with each other. This time Denny and his girlfriend come along for the ride–Denny in part to look after Em, and his girlfriend because she’s a journalist and wants to write an article on ethical artifact hunting (Livi is trying to turn over a new leaf). Cal, Thomas, and Lauren are all there, and Iluka, another treasure hunter who’s rather fond of Livi (she deserves some fun in her life!), is something good to counteract all the darkness. Livi’s mother seems great, but I kept wondering when the other shoe would drop. Chronic illness, mental health, and anxiety all play strong roles in this series.

Livi definitely spends some time wallowing in self-pity, but who can blame her? It feels very realistic, and she doesn’t spend all of her time feeling sorry for herself.

This is a great book, with hidden temples and underground passages, close calls, jaguars stalking the area, an idol to find, mysterious jungle spirits (or something) wreaking havoc, and more. But the really excellent material is all about the characters!

Content note: offscreen sex, some violence.

I had a lot of years’ experience making a spectacle of myself and I wasn’t about to stop now.

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