This review is based on a bound galley.
Land of Marvels is a two-sided statement. Taking place primarily at an archaeological dig, where hope reigns that there will be vast historic value to be discovered. There is also a separate, secondary love story running through the background with tales of the marvels that can be enjoyed in a wonderful city. The dig is a very real archaeological exploration; the stories are tales told to impress a loved one. Barry Unsworth has a wonderful way of bringing the past into the present, as though the reader is witnessing the events. The location is Mesopotamia, just prior to WWI and the fall of the Ottoman empire.
The archaeologist is the innocent hero of our story; he dreams of recognition and discovering marvelous historic treasure. One of his assistants is a hungry man who requires money in order to marry his love. But there is a fairly large cast of characters in this tale. Coincidences abound, or are they coincidences? Many paths cross back and forth politically driven, greed driven, and fear driven. There are spies spying on spies, and lots of curious incidents. Peopled with so many characters one might expect confusion to reign but this is not the case. The book keeps itself tied together weaving in and out of lives and land. The main constant, though, would seem to be time. A railway under construction threatens almost every agenda and task. The ending is climactic. This is fascinating historical fiction of an area not written about to the extent of others, which is interesting in itself. In reality, this is the pre-history of Iraq. I would definitely recommend it to those who enjoy historical fiction, but it is more than that.