Alexander C. Irvine's debut novel, A Scattering of Jades, is a rich and entertaining tale. With no sign of first-timer nerves, Irvine brings together such disparate elements as Tammany Hall, Kentucky's Mammoth Cave, P.T. Barnum, Aztec gods, riverboats and New York in the mid-1800s to create a glorious adventure. While all these well-known people and places might overwhelm other writers, Irvine moves serenely among them, using characters and settings when necessary and dropping them immediately whenever his story demands it.
Irvine is like a real estate agent working areas no one else has discovered. He knows that one of the secrets of a good novel is location, location, location, and he fearlessly takes the reader down the rivers, into the caves and through the cities of the still-coalescing 19th century United States. One of the most interesting threads of the novel is the tale of Stephen Johnson, a historical figure whose real-life story Irvine entwines with his fiction. Johnson, a guide at Mammoth Cave, had a knack for discovering new caves and was responsible for finding and naming many of the caverns that are now famous visitor spots. In a particularly dark and almost claustrophobic section of the novel, Johnson explores a new cave. The scene is frightening, and the action gets even stranger when he goes off the beaten path and discovers an Aztec mummy hidden far from where anyone else had ventured at least for the last several hundred years. The mummy is an Aztec god who, now awakened, wants to bring about the end of the world, and needs a few small things including a child sacrifice to make it happen.
A Scattering of Jades is not a run-of-the-mill quest novel, in which a plucky band of brothers takes on the Dark Lord of So-and-So. Here, saving the world is left to a half-dozen or so seemingly unconnected people.
Irvine can be favorably compared to Tim Powers, especially Powers' historically flavored novels such as The Anubis Gates, yet A Scattering of Jades instantly sets Irvine apart from his influences and allows him to carve out a space for himself.