Reviewed by A.R.K. Watson

Will there be swashbuckling action followed by geeky real-world explanations of ancient cultures and inventions? Yes. Will there be a motley crew of pirates, thieves, sheiks, priests, and archeologists, all with different accents? Yes. Will those accents be comically overblown so as to give you ample opportunity to make your child giggle while reading this to him at night? If you can pull off accents from Chicago, Scotland, Egypt, Italy, and Australia–yes. Will it all tie up with some inspiration from Our Lady and some Aquinas theology like nothing you ever find in middle grade fiction for boys? Of course, it will!

  • Themes: archeology, crusades, Islam, Catholic History, Engineering
  • Genre: Adventure
  • Audience: Readers in grades 6-10
  • Year Published: 2020
  • Author’s Worldview: Catholic

If by some curse you’re not familiar with Adderley’s middle grade series of adventure books get thee to a bookstore stat—and please do excuse the very bland cover art. (If any of you artists want to correct a grave injustice, you’ll find a mission there.)

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For McCracken, the Great War has finally ended and everyone is still healing from those horrors, but all is far from peaceful. McCracken’s travels take him to the heart of Egypt and the Sahara Desert. There, his wife’s job as a translator of ancient texts leads them to discover hints of a lost civilization, the Oasis of Zerzura, as well as an ancient weapon that could level cities. At first, McCracken and his wife try to bury the secret to keep the weapon from falling into the hands of one of the many dictators cropping up in the area. Unfortunately, gentlewoman thief, makes off with their map. McCracken and his friends unite to try and stop her.

What most impresses me about Adderley is how well he does his research. Nearly every location and ancient temple are real places. If you are planning a family trip to Egypt or even just to an Egyptian exhibit at a local museum, this book is chock full of historical lessons wrapped around a swashbuckling pulp adventure novel. Even the Oasis of Zerzura is a place that many archeologists think could turn out to be an actual place. Similar hidden cities have been found in the Saharan desert. Zerzura is rumored to be a city settled by European crusaders, in which case the references to Marian statuary in the city might not be inaccurate. Much like the other McCracken books, Adderley also includes three easy recipes at the back of the book so you can introduce your child to some of the food from around the world that the heroes eat on their travels.

The historical places McCracken visits in this book include Aswan, the Aswan Dam, the Temple of Isis, and the Temple of Augustus. Interestingly, in the book, the Temples of Isis and Augustus are underwater, and McCracken and his wife have to perform some thrilling heroics to get in. Today both temples have been moved from their riverbed location. You can still visit one of them in Egypt, but the other is in New York City, given as a thank you to the USA for funding the reclamation project. Besides archeology, Adderley also manages to make engineering exciting for young readers as well, going into the design of the Aswan Dam and of every ship and truck the heroes board. Not having an interest in that myself, I initially expected those parts to bore me, but Adderley’s writing carries it through. Whatever your child’s interest, they are sure to find McCracken’s adventure fascinating.

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What surprised me about this book, was the depth of the moral conflict at play. A 1920’s era pulp adventure story doesn’t usually lend itself to complex moral conflict, but McCracken finds himself in one when he realizes that one of his friends is planning to massacre an invading army. He admits that his friends have the right to defend their land, but he questions their plan to use excessive force. And yet, if he stands up to his friend, he risks being killed himself—and for an invading army he doesn’t even like! I was expecting that McCracken was going to have to make a compromise, but Adderley brought the conflict to a satisfying and surprising end.

McCracken and the Lost Oasis is a must-have for any Christian or homeschool family looking for fun, creative ways to educate their children. It will go over particularly well with young boys, but the girls won’t feel left out either. McCracken’s wife isn’t the only breastfeeding mama who shows up and gets to take part in the adventures. And his lady international jewel thief makes for a fun trickster who could give Carmen Sandiego a run for her money. Much like the Gentlemen Thief Flambeau from the Fr. Brown Mysteries, she is on her own redemptive path. I look forward to reading more books where she makes an appearance.