Travel Documents 16: The Nel Bently Series

Travelers- Nel Bently Book 1

Drifters- Nel Bently Book 2


V.S. Holmes
Genre: adventure, archeology, mystery, hard sci-fi

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The Dust Cover Copy


Archaeologist Nel Bently has her own crew, her own research, and a private patron to fund her passion for dirt. With her trowel barely into the dry earth of Chile’s coast, however, Nel learns she and her crew are being watched.

Los Pobladores, known to Nel only as vandals and looters, take issue with any archaeologist brave or stubborn enough to set boots on their land. Nel is both and far from willing to give up the site that will make her career. She must keep her crew, her friends, and her life’s work safe, but with a benefactor playing chess with their lives, and angry militants who may actually have a point, Nel is ready to fight dirty.


The only person on Earth she trusts … is in space

Archaeologist Nel Bently left Chile in the wake of murder, vandalism and UFO sightings. No sooner has the school semester started when cops are at her door. Accused of a murder she’s not certain is her fault, Nel has no choice but to go on the run. She starts a game of connect-the-dots across New England, following her gut and clues left by her elusive alien-benefactor-turned-almost-girlfriend.

Running from the law isn’t easy with her field pack and a handful of scorned exes to depend on. Between starvation, untraceable texts, and a harrowing journey through the wilderness, Nel is forced to question everything about the science she loves and the people she trusted.

The Deets

The Scene


This is one of the rare, treasured sci-fi reads I’ve found that hasn’t forgotten the SCIENCE! part. For that I adore it.  Book 1 is firmly grounded in the practices and the hard work of archeology: the hot days, the process an archeologist works through in their training, the way you smell after a long day excavating. These details firmly ground readers in the soil and the sweat of what it means to be both a real scientist and an actual excavator. The authenticity of this narrative is refreshing, and the information made me stop reading to go online and look up new terminology in avid curiosity. This is the book that reminds you of the days when you were excited to learn about science because it was cool. The personal experience and research involved are incredible.

Slowly, with all the menace of a re-animated mummy, the strange and the otherworldly details come creeping in. When they begin to co-opt this driven and dedicated narrative of an archeologist’s struggles, you feel much as the protagonist does: that the balance of the world has shifted in a disturbing way.
The high-level science is wonderfully hidden in plain sight, giving us just enough to tantalize without allowing us to feel completely sure. That use of otherworldly tension to punch up the plot is usually a little crass. Here, it’s subtle and masterfully insidious.

Book 2 continues that powerful sense of disconnection and builds on the painful reality of the situation, throwing a respected scholar and field worker into the life of a nomadic and hunted creature. Nel knows only a little more woodcraft than most of us, and her struggles are visceral. I appreciated the fact that there were few easy answers or convenient escapes from trouble. There was only pure, unadulterated stubbornness, wit, and grit getting our heroine through.

The Crowd


To sum up this book’s characterization style, all I can say is: authentic. Everything is real here. And Nel, the protagonist, is the most real character of all. She’s complicated. She’s no-nonsense. She’s sometimes focused to the point of myopia, and her friends know when to remind her to pull her head out of her work and treat other people like human beings. Nel is terse, because words take her focus from her work. But she’s also the most loyal and devoted friend you will ever meet.

Characters around Nel are well grounded and believable in their interactions. You can sympathize with the alien girl caught between terrible choices. You really like Nel’s inexperienced grad students, even if they are goofy and sometimes clueless. And you appreciate her best friend. You especially appreciate her exes, who knew they couldn’t keep a feral creature like Nel but still love her.

Her lady exes. Oh, didn’t I mention? Nel is gay. Yep. But her orientation is integrated so flawlessly into the narrative that you barely blink. She’s cool with it, her friends are cool with it. Her lovers are hot for it 😉 and I love reading a story where sexuality is simply another facet of a well-formed personality. We need more stories like this.

Loss is also portrayed authentically in this story. There’s no dramatic collapse, and there’s no forgetting. There’s simply the daily grind with an ache in the pit of the stomach. Not many stories show it so realistically.


The Lingo

Writing Style

Cross Jack London with Tony Hillerman and add a dash of one-liners, and you’ve got Holmes. The writing style is sharp and clear, yet you are always given a rich picture of the surroundings and the situation. Most interpersonal details are conveyed via interpersonal dialogue in book 1, doing what good dialogue should do. The thoughts turn inward in book 2, when Nel is isolated, but the stark, hard-hitting style is intensified if anything.

Powerful stuff.


The Moves


The balance between action and introspection is struck just right in both books, and the subtle clarity of the storytelling allows readers to feel everything right along with characters.
Book 2 moved faster than I was expecting after book 1; I finished it in 3 hours. But that was the right pacing for the given situation, and exactly timed to keep the reader riveted after the slow build of book 1.

The end of Book 2 was just a touch choppy, as characters and reader both worked to come down off the many pages of adrenalin high. It made mundane scenes seem a touch blase, though it also reinforced the reason that certain decisions are made (no spoilers). After all, who wants to sit at a desk after a wild ride like that?
Rather than a happy ending, we’re gifted with uncertain hope at the end of Book 2. But hey, that makes me eager to read book 3!



Overall Rating

Fans of X-files, Indiana Jones, kickass girls or Tony Hillerman need to read. That is all.