Colleen Mondor reviews Curse of the Specter Queen by Jenny Elder Moke

Curse of the Specter Queen, Jenny Elder Moke (Hyperion 978-1-36806-398-2, 340pp, hc) June 2021.

Jenny Elder Moke’s Curse of the Specter Queen is an archeological thriller with para­normal aspects that reads as very Raiders of the Lost Ark, plus demonic possession plus villainous trust funders. Samantha Knox is the code-breaking antiquities genius, her friend Jo Steeling is the tough bad-ass who gets them out of trouble, and Jo’s brother Bennett is the guy Sam crushes on, Jo argues with, and the reason they end up having to save the world. (Bennett also pays for everything, but really this is mostly the Sam and Jo show.) The narrative zips along, the scenery changes dramatically, the clues must be sorted out, lives must be risked, and warrior monks must be dealt with. It’s light frothy fun that largely works, as long as you accept that the heroes will make a few critical errors in judge­ment to serve the plot’s demands.

Sam’s quiet Midwestern life is blown up when a damaged diary arrives at the antiquarian book shop where she works. Soon enough, she learns the book was mailed by Bennett’s professor, on an archeology dig in Dublin, which Bennett is leaving to join. Before she has a chance to work on the damaged book, Bennett takes it and heads off for the train station, and some bad guys show up at the shop looking for it and set fire to build­ing, nearly killing Sam, when she refuses to tell them where it is. Then Sam and Jo must race to the station to warn Bennett, which results in them jumping on the train to New York where they all transfer to an ocean liner for Ireland. En route a lot of work is done on the diary, and clues are uncovered! But also, because for some strange reason this extremely valuable and small book is left behind every time they go off to eat, the diary is stolen! They also lose a letter found in the diary because no one thinks to put that in a pocket either! So the group gets to Dublin, doesn’t know what is what, and then they find their tragically possessed professor, the afore­mentioned monks, and a monster in the woods.

(In case you are wondering, the girls also get some clothes along the way, manage to meet some cute boys, and check into luxurious suites everywhere they go.)

Moke brings intriguing history and folklore into the text, from the Hellfire Club to the Morrigan and Cú Chulainn, all of which is thoroughly discussed. The rush through the streets of Dublin chasing centuries-old clues is a lot of nerdy fun, and it’s impossible not to enjoy Jo every time she breaks the rules. For all the red herrings cast about however, the main villain is fairly obvious early on and the convenient lapses of judgment do get old. As a diversion, Curse of the Specter Queen is fine; here’s hoping everyone gets a bit smarter, and the very Caucasian cast includes some much-needed diversity, in the sequel.


Colleen Mondor, Contributing Editor, is a writer, historian, and reviewer who co-owns an aircraft leasing company with her husband. She is the author of “The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska” and reviews regularly for the ALA’s Booklist. Currently at work on a book about the 1932 Mt. McKinley Cosmic Ray Expedition, she and her family reside in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. More info can be found on her website: www.colleenmondor.com.


This review and more like it in the November 2021 issue of Locus.

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