Title: The Falling Woman
Author: Pat Murphy
Genre: (science fiction), magical realism, historical fiction
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Winner of the Nebula Award: An archaeologist with a strange power risks death to unlock the secret of the Mayans
When night falls over the Yucatan, the archaeologists lay down their tools. But while her colleagues relax, Elizabeth Butler searches for shadows. A famous scientist with a reputation for eccentricity, she carries a strange secret. Where others see nothing but dirt and bones and fragments of pottery, Elizabeth sees shades of the men and women who walked this ground thousands of years before. She can speak to the past—and the past is beginning to speak back.
As Elizabeth communes with ghosts, the daughter she abandoned flies to Mexico hoping for a reunion. She finds a mother embroiled in the supernatural, on a quest for the true reason for the Mayans’ disappearance. To dig up the truth, the archaeologist who talks to the dead must learn a far more difficult skill: speaking to her daughter.
I really liked the idea of this book, but everything about it just seemed faded - as though someone took the intensity dial and cranked it way down. I liked it, but it wasn't as good as I was hoping it would be. I think part of it was a matter of expectations. I was expecting science fiction, but this book read more like historical fiction. There was a lot more history and archaeology in this book than science and technology. I really enjoy historical fiction, but it just wasn't what I was expecting.
The Falling Woman interweaves the stories of a mother and daughter, Elizabeth and Diane Butler. Elizabeth is a renowned archaeologist who has struggled with sanity all her life. She sees visions of people from the past, and has had to deal with the stigma of insanity. Diane grew up away from her mother, and her dad has taught her to always be in control of herself. It's the complete opposite of Elizabeth's outlook on life, and after a twenty year separation, you can imagine that their reunion is a little awkward. The two meet in the middle of an archaeology dig of the ancient Mayan civilization. Spirits begin to haunt both women, and soon it becomes clear that they are both in danger.
I really liked Elizabeth's voice. She's such an original character, at least for me - she was a jaded yet fiercely determined archaeologist, and she embraced the supernatural and other cultures. Diane wasn't quite as interesting as her mother, but I thought she was a nice contrast to her mother and it was interesting to see her grow up throughout the course of the novel. I also really liked that the story focused on Mayan civilization. The Mayans were one of my favorite cultures to learn about in school, and I was fascinated by how much of their lives revolved around their gods and supernatural events. This book did a great job of portraying the Mayan culture without sensationalizing it, and gave it a lot of respect.
I also really liked the supernatural element and the overarching plot. What I didn't like so much was the lack of intensity. You would imagine some excitement if ancient Mayan spirits began talking to you and warning you of danger and sacrifice. The thing is, most of the book is just warnings. You don't know what the danger is until almost the very end, and when it actually comes it is very anticlimactic. I felt like there just could have been more. I appreciated the parallels in ancient and modern times, but it felt like the solution to the danger was too easy.
I liked this book, and I think it's worth giving a shot, but don't go into it expecting science fiction. This book is very much about history and archaeology, with a bit of the supernatural thrown in. It is also a mother-daughter story, and one about the sacrifices you make for the people you love.
*A free copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*