Young Indiana Jones #1: The Mata Hari Affair
by James Luceno
Published by Ballantine Books
Adrick's Rating: 4 out of 4
During World War I, the beautiful temptress Mata Hari was a dancer whose revealing costumes shocked all of Paris. When Indy met her on leave from his perilous frontline duties as a battlefield messenger, their attraction was instant. But Indy was to discover that Mata Hari hid a far darker self. This extraordinary woman was very possibly a German spy on a heartless mission to win the war for her country, at whatever cost to the Allies. Caught between passion and honor, young Indy would be forced to choose sides in a battle he could easily lose…
This is probably one of the most…unique…Lucasfilm novelizations ever produced. Yes, this is a novelization, although it probably contains enough added material for another story entirely. Let me take a moment to explain exactly what this is a novelization of. The book contains two parts, Verdun and Paris. These parts correspond to two episodes of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles television show: Verdun, September 1916, and Paris, October 1916. This is the first time these chronologically related but otherwise dissimilar episodes were presented together and without the ninety-three-year-old Indy segments that bookended each show. Much later, these episodes would be joined together with new bridging footage to form the movie Demons of Deception. (Which can now be found on Volume 2 of the new Young Indiana Jones DVDs. Are you confused yet?)
Luceno’s version lacks the bridging scene. However, because the novel lacks the distinctly different visual styles of the two episodes, and has a subplot involving the Escadrille Américaine that spans both sections, this combination actually comes across more coherently than in Demons of Deception.
The “edutainment” element that was the hallmark of the Chronicles is here in full force. Luceno combines the historical fiction of the show with a vast amount of additional historical perspectives, information, and even French vocabulary. Some readers may dislike having the escapist thrill of Indiana Jones mixed so heavily with real-world history and geography, but Luceno blends the two so well here it’s like chocolate and peanut butter.
Luceno’s penchant (See? It's working already!) for franchise continuity is here as well—nearly all of the Chronicles episodes produced at the time of the writing are referenced here (and, from what I can tell, many that hadn’t yet aired), along with Last Crusade and what appears to be a nod forward to the then-new series of Indiana Jones novels. The last scene, another Luceno addition, also brings more closure to the tale of Indy’s encounter with Mata Hari than the original episode did.
All in all, it’s an unusual book: part Indiana Jones tale, part textbook. Unusual combination, but masterfully done. I recommend it for fans of Luceno, Lucasfilm oddities, Young Indiana Jones, and anyone who loves being edutainted.
This was apparently intended to be book one of a series adapting the Chronicles episodes for older readers. (Another series for young adults had several more entries than this series. Definitely more than one.) Why Luceno or his editors chose this particular set of episodes to adapt first is beyond me. They weren’t the first episodes chronologically, they weren’t the first episodes aired, and they are not the most “Indiana Jones”-like episodes. I don’t know if this series suffered because of this strange introduction or simply because of a general lack of interest in Young Indiana Jones, but it was definitely an odd choice.
The book is also pretty explicit for an adaptation of a television show aimed at a young audience. In fact, this is one of the few Lucasfilm tie-ins that might qualify for an R rating. This is just not something you’d expect from a Western-looking paperback with young Sean Patrick Flannery on the cover that you might find between a few dusty copies of Young Jedi Knights on a Half Price Books rack. Unfortunately, Luceno’s methodical writing style, while well suited to delivering a lot of historical information, does not lend itself well to passionate intimacy, so these scenes end up being more uncomfortable than, um, arousing.
Finally, the title isn’t as nicely vague as Demons of Deception. Why call it the Mata Hari Affair if the affair is only in half the novel?
Mata Hari’s washroom routine. Too much historical information. Way too much historical information.