Author: Katya de Becerra
Publisher: Imprint Macmillan
Release Date: January 7th 2020
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction
The oasis saved them. But who will save them from the oasis?
Alif had exciting summer plans: working on her father’s archaeological dig site in the desert with four close friends . . . and a very cute research assistant. Then the sandstorm hit.
With their camp wiped away, Alif and the others find themselves lost on the sands, seemingly doomed . . . until they find the oasis. It has everything they need: food, water, shade—and mysterious ruins that hide a deadly secret. As reality begins to shift around them, they question what’s real and what’s a mirage.
The answers turn Alif and her friends against one another, and they begin to wonder if they’ve truly been saved. And while it was easy to walk into the oasis, it may be impossible to leave . . .
Katya de Becerra’s new supernatural thriller hides a mystery in plain sight, and will keep you guessing right up to its terrifying conclusion.
my review + favorite quotes
I received a free copy for an honest review.
What I liked:
The historical nature
I’ve mentioned this in previous reviews (I promise they exist, even if I cannot remember which) how I am a huge history and mythology nerd. So a large part of why I enjoyed the book came from the constant mythological and historical references (due to the characters being archeologists and all). It’s really fun to see the references I recognize and learn new knowledge at the same time. I also really appreciate the consistency of the historical theme with this book’s “fantasy” genre. The book was had a great balance between fiction basing off non-fictional historical facts/legends.
Alif and her narration (and some of the quotes)
“It would’ve been funny to watch him fluff up like a fighting peacock if it wasn’t so disturbing”.
Alif’s sarcastic and brilliant remarks make me laugh out loud so many times when reading the book. So (please do) feast your eyes on the following beautiful quotes (hopefully one day you may use them for yourself). I promise they would make more sense as you read the book (which I recommend you do).
“Either she could sniff out over the phone my unspoken reluctance to rehash my desert nightmare or she was just out of sync with reality, but the most consequential question she asked was whether I was using sunblock”.
This quote also is one of the most meaningful quotes I came across – something about how the line was written stuck with me.
“The air in the cabin acquired a metallic taste of fear, and I could hear prayers in different languages, directed at different gods, but all begging for the same thing, unified by the act of staring death in the face”.
All of this made the book “good” in my opinion, like good seasonings for a dish.
Tommy and Alif
For the people who care about romance – yes, this book has it (it’s pretty good too). Tommy and Alif’s interaction flowed naturally with the general plot so that even people like me who didn’t come for the romance can still read the book and liked it.
What I didn’t like as much:
The “overclimaxation” (that’s not a word)
Oasis made such a big deal with this mysterious “goddess” figure in the oasis, to the point of making it seems like it’s a “saving the world” scenario they were going through (that’s how serious and dramatic the conflict was). But I really can’t be sure if the book lived up to that. It seems like almost all of the book was just the characters discovering, describing, and going through the conflict. Usually, it’s more half/half – 50% discovering going through the conflict, 50% trying to resolve it (and overlaps with the continuous conflict that is not yet resolved). Although this helps me get into the story, it left me leaving a bit disappointed (a little bit anticlimactic).
Ultimately though, I had a pleasant experience with the book. And as a history and mythology fan, I feel obliged to give it at least a 3/5 rating.
Oasis excerpt 1
The thing about sandstorms is that they are fast, furious, and unpredictable. I’d heard sandstorm terror stories from my mother and father both, but I hadn’t actually experienced one myself. Now I could mark that off my list of experiences to have before turning eighteen. It was not a pleasant experience. I could’ve done without it.
As my senses were reawakening, my first legible thought was of guilt. Last night I’d made a mistake. A big and regrettable one. I went outside during a sandstorm—a big no-no. Dad would be so embarrassed and livid with me. Worse even, I dragged my friends along. I never found my father last night. But then . . . I remembered how a monster of a four-wheel drive appeared to be flying out of a black column of sand and how it fell down, flattening our tent. Whatever voice it was that called to me, whether imaginary or real, it had prompted me and my friends to go outside right before our tent was smashed. It saved our lives. The rest of my memories from last night were starting to return, but most were blurry and distant. Did I really help rescue some girl who was pinned down by a fallen electrical pole or was that a fever nightmare?
Dry and sluggish, my tongue struggled to move. I heard a moan, and it took me a few breaths to realize it was me as I attempted to spit the sand out of my mouth. The mind goes to mysterious places in times of crisis. In that moment, I couldn’t help but think about all the ancient Egyptian mummies stuck in museums around the world: Well-preserved bodies with such terrible teeth—teeth often rubbed off to the nub. The lack of effective dental care was a great unifier in ancient Egypt: Even royalty got their teeth sand-damaged. The sand was the force that couldn’t be stopped by palace walls or army hordes.
With the sand mostly out of my mouth, I focused on my other senses. A slight hissing sound that was reached my ears. One of those electric lamps, a survivor of the storm, just like me? But other than that—nothing. I couldn’t detect a single noise that normally came with human presence.
The next thing I realized was that my left arm was immobile. Then the pain flooded back. Dull and throbbing, it immediately consumed most of my upper body’s left side. Aspirin! My kingdom for an aspirin. And a ride to the nearest doctor’s office!
With my right arm I reached out to feel the area around me. I was lying on uneven ground. Every time I moved, sharp ridges dug into my skin. I dared open my eyes. Or more like, I peeled them open, as my eyelids were sealed shut with sand. At first, the only color I could distinguish was milky white. Or no color at all, to be exact. A wave of panic choked me as I strained to open my eyes wider, blinking rapidly and deeply, hoping to jolt my vision back into action. Gradually, the all-consuming whiteness morphed into pale blue. The sky. And not a cloud floating above. I shifted my view to the side and saw . . . sand.
Sand dunes, stretching far, disappearing into the horizon. I twisted my head to the other side. Same view. No sign of the dig camp. Just sand everywhere.
Oasis excerpt 2
You don’t really know heat until you come to a place like Dubai. The air was so humid it was like being in a sauna with your clothes on. Every inhale burned and tickled my throat. I tried breathing through my mouth to see if that was any better, but i
t made it worse. The second we stepped outside, Tommy produced a baseball cap from his pocket and put it on. Watching him, I felt irresponsible for packing all my headgear in my checked-in luggage and not in my carry-on, where it’d be easily accessible. During our short walk to the airport parking lot, the top of my head got so hot I was surely headed for heatstroke. Luke mimicked Tommy and put a cap on, pulling the brim as low as he could to shade his pale, freckled face. Lori unfurled the tasteful silky gauze scarf she had wrapped around her neck and spread it over her head in a casual but stylish way. Only Minh, Rowen, and I remained at the sun’s mercy until we reached Tommy’s monstrous four-wheel drive.
Tommy and Rowen secured some of our luggage to the top of the car, while the rest of our stuff was pushed into the spacious trunk. At last, I climbed inside the blissfully cool car, grateful for air-conditioning.
“Well, this is Dubai, kids,” Tommy said, eyeing our oddball group in the rearview mirror.
“I hope you’re ready for the experience of your lives.”
“Yeah, that didn’t come off cheesy at all.” Minh snorted, and I caught a glimpse of Tommy grinning at her. I promptly looked out the window, focusing on the view instead of wondering whether Minh’s exchange with Tommy counted as mutual flirting.
As we drove farther and farther away the airport, the city of Dubai rose from the desert. A mirage of modernity, complete with skyscrapers glistering in the sunlight. The excitement that was pummeling blood against my ears dwindled when we didn’t enter the limits of the city proper, instead veering left and setting course for Tell Abrar, where Dad and the endless sea of dust awaited us. That was the reason we were here—the dig site. I could always check out Dubai with my friends on one of the weekends.
My eyes were glued to the car window, busy taking in the desert’s Mars-like scenery, alternating with modest houses and gas stations. A deafening roar of engines preceded a small group of motorcyclists speeding past us. The riders were wrapped in leather and the spirit of adventure, and I recalled a period of my childhood spent obsessing over Lawrence of Arabia. I imagined T. E. Lawrence himself standing on a dune somewhere, lungs filling with the clean hot air of the limitless desert. Or, perhaps, he was surrounded by the bedouin in the hinterland, or riding his motorcycle through the ocean of sand, leaving it forever haunted by his dagger-wielding white-clad ghost.
I exchanged an excited look with Minh and then with Lori, their eyes equally bright. The three of us had trouble suppressing our burbling anticipation. This was it. We’d made it.
After about an hour on the road, we arrived. Here at Tell Abrar the sand-swept landscape unfolded as far as the eye could see.
Tainting my excitement with unfounded worry, Tommy’s post on Dig It came back to me all of a sudden. Being here, away from modernity and surrounded by sand on all sides, the unforgiving sun over my head, it was easy to surrender to the idea of meteors crashing into the sands, their fiery spirits lingering to haunt the land to this day. I was about to ask Tommy about his strange blog post, but he finished parking our car and it was time to get out and get going.
Let the adventure begin.
Oasis excerpt 3
“What’s the plan for today?” Rowen’s question snapped Tommy out of his quiet.
“You’ve gotten the full overview of the camp, so now you can decide what you want to be doing for the rest of your stay.” Tommy’s sharp eyes were on me when he said that. Unsettling. Why was he always so serious, so intense? I tried to recall the last time I’d seen Tommy smile and couldn’t.
Tommy continued. “In terms of options—there’s the dig itself, but you’d have to be prepped on what to do, and how not to damage the samples, and also how to label them properly. So, I’m afraid, your choice is between kitchen duty and post-dig labeling.”
“You can’t be serious,” Luke scoffed. “Do you think I came here to wash dirty pots and catalog old bones?”
Tommy’s face grew stone-cold, or more stone-cold, to be precise, since he wasn’t a ray of sunshine to begin with. I wished Luke would just stop with his macho posturing or whatever this was. Alarmed, I watched a little crease form on Tommy’s forehead. When his eyes slid over my face again, I mentally flinched. He must’ve been super unhappy with me for bringing my friends here.
To Luke Tommy said, “Sure, I’m going to let you join the excavation crew. Do you know how to use the tools to get stuff out of the ground without breaking it? Can you tell a trowel from a plumb bob? And are you aware of the procedures we must follow in case we do come across human remains, or, as you called them, ‘old bones’? Or does your entire knowledge of archaeology come from watching Indiana Jones movies?”
Stunned into belligerent silence by Tommy’s outburst, Luke seethed for the rest of breakfast. I couldn’t be seen publicly taking Tommy’s side over my friend’s, but secretly Tommy’s putting Luke in his place pleased me.
By the time I finished with my porridge, I made my decision about my work assignment. I wanted to be on labeling duty. Minh and Luke joined me, and Lori and Rowen, surprisingly, chose to help out in the kitchen.
We all tagged along while Tommy took Lori and Rowen deeper into the cafeteria tent, round the serving counter, and into the fiery heart of the field kitchen. There, he introduced my friends to Riley Hassan, the camp’s head cook. Born in Hobart to Lebanese-Australian parents, Riley first met my father when young Riley was an apprentice chef straight out of cooking school. Years later, when Dad had the first project of his own to manage, he sought out Riley and invited him to join the dig. Ever since, the two of them frequently worked together. On rare occasions when Riley was not available, it was a real struggle to find a good replacement.
Riley and I greeted each other like old friends before he and Tommy led Lori and Rowen away to get them started, leaving me, Minh, and Luke to our own devices. I wanted to chat with Riley some more but didn’t get a chance, though he winked at me and said something embarrassing about me growing up so fast. This was the thing about being a camp brat: Everyone still saw me as some little rascal running around in her shorty shorts. Luke snorted at Riley’s words, and despite my amazing self-control, I reddened in the face.
Tommy had told us to wait for his return, but I was familiar with the camp’s layout by now and had a solid idea where the labeling tent was. I told my friends I was going, and, having nothing better to do, Minh and Luke followed me out into the suffocating heat.
about the author
Katya de Becerra was born in Russia, studied in California, lived in Peru, and then stayed in Australia long enough to become a local. She was going to be an Egyptologist when she grew up, but instead she earned a PhD in Anthropology and now works as a university lecturer and a researcher. Katya is a short version of her real name, which is very long and gets mispronounced a lot. What The Woods Keep was her first novel (out now), which is followed by another standalone Oasis in 2020. She has also authored and co-authored academic articles, book chapters, guest posts and opinion pieces.