The Secret of the Codex by Melissa Frey
Somewhere, buried deep underground, lies an ancient Secret…
When archaeology professor Kayla Harrington heads to Belize for the summer, she discovers a collection of Mayan hieroglyphs detailing stories of a powerful Secret. But when her colleague, Grady McGready, joins in the search, she begins to realize that there’s more to this secret—and to him—than she thought.
But secrets don’t stay hidden by chance…
As Kayla and Grady get closer to uncovering the Secret—and the power it promises—they, along with grad students Mandy and Justin, are thrust into the hands of a ruthless Clan determined to prevent the Secret from being released at all costs. Through deadly rainforests, raging rivers, and hidden passageways, the four embark on a journey to bring to light a Secret that has been hidden from the world for far too long.
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Five Stars
I received an Advanced Reader Copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Wow. Just. Wow. Melissa Frey’s debut novel is setting the bar high for any of my future debut novel reads. The Secret of the Codex has been ten years in the making, which is truly a statement to how epic it is.
Melissa is able to take a complex storyline, with twists and turns in every direction, and make it understandable for the masses. Although it is technically for adult readers, the way it reads like a new adult novel will make it enjoyable for just about any reader.
There’s action, adventure, and danger, yes… But there’s also mystery, romance, and calms before the storm.
Although I could list a dozen things that I loved about this book, one thing stands out in particular, and that’s the way the characters are written.
Kayla, Grady, Mandy, and Justin are surrounded by crazy events that involve magic and ancient civilizations. But even though all these supernatural occurrences fill the pages of the book, the story feels real because of the realness of the characters.
It was refreshing reading book characters that were not only relatable, but I could see being real people in my life. Each character was developed in such an intricate, yet at the same time, simple way, – each with their own fears, feelings, and desires. And on top of that, the relationships feel real too.
With Kayla and Grady, we see the beginning of those strong feelings we may possess for another, but still, showcase the fear that it might not work, and the apprehension to even pursue something with someone after being hurt and let down in the past.
Then, with Mandy and Justin, we see the reality of every real relationship. There are ups and downs, but for a relationship to last, love must come first, and any problem should be worked through and not pushed to the side.
The Secret of the Codex was like Indiana Jones, meets National Treasure, meets Avatar the Last Airbender. Each page filled with archaeological adventure, puzzling mystery, and magical potential.
I would definitely recommend The Secret of the Codex to anyone who wants to feel immersed in a world similar to your own, but filled with hidden magic that only you can find. With lip biting cliffhangers throughout the novel, this supernatural archaeological thriller is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat, eager to finish.
Interview with Melissa Frey:
- What inspired the idea for The Secret of the Codex? And as a follow-up, it took you ten years to finish this debut novel. At what point in the story did you have the self-realization that you had something awesome here and could see yourself getting to this point?
I grew up watching Indiana Jones and Jurassic Park with my dad and reading Frank Peretti’s Cooper Kids series, which was all about two kids who went along with their dad on his adventures as an archaeologist. I’m guessing that’s where all this came from. I think those stories made me fall in love with archaeology — and probably made me fall in love with stories, too!
I picked the treasure hunt idea because I thought it would help me fill out the book more, give me something to write about. I wasn’t sure I could make a book long enough with just one location, so I wanted to give multiple locations and events that would fill the pages. Seems funny now! Turns out I had to do a ton of editing to get the word count down, actually.
As far as finishing and publishing it… There wasn’t really a lightbulb moment for me as I always had the publishing goal in mind from the very beginning — I just didn’t know it would take a decade! I originally didn’t include supernatural elements, but once I had the idea — through a dream, actually — I knew I had something special. That’s when I knew I wanted to finish it and get it published.
- You wrote Kayla, Grady, Mandy, and Justin amazingly. Many characters in books are relatable for specific qualities they have, but your protagonists are written so well that they’re relatable because they feel real. Would you say that they are based at all on people in your own life?
Thank you so much for saying so! In so many ways, my characters are more real to me than actual people. During those times when I hadn’t been writing, I felt like I missed my characters, and that’s what drew me back. It’s also what’s keeping me going into the next book! My characters had more to say and I honestly just missed them.
As far as each character, Kayla is — as you could have probably guessed — loosely based on me, if I was way cooler. I did purposely put things in that were not like me at all — like her fear of flying and dislike of mayonnaise — but she’s a lot like me.
I like to say that Grady is based on my husband, though I hadn’t met him when I first wrote Grady. Grady was written as my ideal guy, the one I always imagined was possible for me but wasn’t sure I’d find. I lucked out when I did. 🙂
Do you remember the show Smallville? Justin is actually loosely based on the character of Aquaman on that show. No clue why — that’s just who came to mind when I wrote him.
Mandy is actually based on my sister, Amanda, though I joke that I never call her Mandy! My sister’s sweet and kind, just like Mandy, so she was fairly easy to write — I had an actual live inspiration to draw from!
- What went into your decision to write in third-person, past tense?
Honestly, I don’t know that it was a conscious decision — it’s just what felt natural to me. I’m guessing, unless I try my hand at first person, that third person past tense is what I’ll write until the day I die. I think this was also influenced by Frank Peretti, who I read a lot growing up.
- Throughout each chapter, you had various forms of cliffhangers in the form of text breaks. Other than add page-turning excitement, how do you think these many cliffhangers contributed to the mystery of the storyline?
I can’t resist a good cliffhanger — if the payoff is there eventually. It bugs me when a TV show ends a season or a book ends without finishing the story, but I think little cliffhangers are what keeps people wondering what happens next, which keeps them reading!
And I do have a TON of text breaks. It’s how I differentiated each individual point of view, which I liked to use to move the story forward as well. Sometimes I switched viewpoints in the middle of a scene — or even conversation — so I could see how the other people were reacting through different characters’ eyes. I think it allows the reader to get a broader, deeper picture of the characters and what they’re experiencing.
- Were there any specific moments when writing where the story became too real and you found yourself feeling emotional at all? If so, can you describe those feelings and what you did to continue writing?
Wow; so many. The SUV explosion near the beginning was one. It was hard for me. And I remember distinctly the music I had playing while I wrote it: Snow Patrol’s Make This Last Forever. The song built just as the vehicle exploded and I was nearly in tears, gasping for air. I just was so horrified that some people in this world would do that to other people, and people they didn’t even know!
The multiple deaths of secondary characters also affected me a lot. I don’t want to give too much away, but the death of a secondary character toward the end was especially difficult to write. I had put so much time into that character and loved them so much, that killing them off — though it was vital to the story — broke my heart. I just really wish they didn’t have to die.
Grady talking to Kayla over the campfire was another when he told her how he felt for the first time. I was tearing up! Actually, just about every “love” scene had me in tears. I just couldn’t get over how sweet their love story was, I guess. I consequently read and edited those scenes the most — those are the scenes I could almost quote from memory, where there are other scenes that I’m like “Oh, that happened? I didn’t remember that!”
It sounds like I just cried a lot! So many emotions ran through my head and heart as I wrote and edited. I just acknowledged the feeling, let myself cry, then took a break if I needed to and pushed through, kept going.
But I still loved it, even the hard feelings. Because I knew, as the writer, that the characters wouldn’t stay there. I had the power to get them out of their horrible situation if I just kept writing. So sometimes I did — I kept writing — if only to make the characters happy again.
- Is there anything you edited out of this book that didn’t fit quite right? If so, what was it?
Hmmm…a ton, actually. I had to cut 10,000 words to get it down to the word count I was aiming for! One thing I remember distinctly was that the second location was originally Hawaii. About halfway through writing their adventure in Hawaii, I realized I needed to move the location, so I did! Abruptly. That’s what editing is for!
I also had trouble figuring out how Kayla, Grady, and Mandy found Justin toward the middle of the book. I think I wrote that scene a few different ways before deciding on the one that made it into the final draft. I liked that one the best because it brought back the necklace.
Most of the rest of what I edited out was me repeating myself. Since I’m a pantser and follow only a very loose outline, I’m never quite sure what the finished product will look like until I get there. I realized that I was trying to drive a point home, but ended up just beating the reader over the head with it. If I was saying “We get it already!” when I read it, I knew the reader would get bored. So I cut it out.
- What have you liked about writing an adult supernatural thriller? Do you think you’ll stick with this genre indefinitely, or do you want to experiment with writing other genres and/or age groups?
I always used to say that writing supernatural fiction was so much easier because you could just write in a superpower to get your protagonists out of trouble. But then I realized that it’s actually much more difficult than I thought since I have to make it believable and relatable, too! But I love it. I’ve always loved stories with supernatural elements; I don’t know why it took me so long to realize it! I’m guessing I’ll stick with it for a good while.
But I really love YA, too. If I ever tried another genre, I’m pretty sure it would be young adult fiction. I’ve got a lot of story ideas for that genre, mostly supernatural in nature, too!
- Is there a deeper message in The Secret of the Codex that you hope to convey to the reader? If so, can you explain your intentions?
Most definitely! Though again, being a pantser, I didn’t know what it was until I read it back to myself! The theme that stuck out the most to me was learning to trust. Kayla wants to trust the journey, trust the universe, trust Grady, trust herself, but she struggles with doing so. She wishes she could see the end result of the journey before she makes it, wishes she knew all the answers to every question she’d ask. I think that’s true for a lot of us, right? We wish there was a cosmic GPS telling us where to go, what to do, which path to take — but life is about learning to enjoy the journey without having to have it all figured out first. It’s something I learned as I wrote the book, too.
Now for some fun ones….
- What celebrities do you picture in your mind, who would play Kayla, Grady, Mandy, and Justin in the movie version of The Secret of the Codex?
Okay, so Grady is the easiest. It has been and will always be Jake Gyllenhaal. I just hope they make the movie before he gets too old…and if they don’t, Grant Gustin. After the first crossover episode of CW’s The Flash and Supergirl, I was convinced.
Kayla is one I’ve gone back and forth on, but I’ve decided on either Emmy Rossum or Rachel McAdams. Emmy Rossum because The Day After Tomorrow is one of my favorite movies and she had amazing chemistry with Jake Gyllenhaal. I’m not sure what actress would fit Kayla best opposite Grant Gustin, though…
That’s probably as far as I’ve gotten with those. Justin would have to be played by someone who looks good with blond spiky hair and can play fun and easy-going convincingly. No one actually comes to mind!
Mandy’s kind of the same way — no one comes to mind. But she would have to be played by someone with a sweet face like Kellie Martin in her ER days!
I’m so bad at this! I don’t know many current actors…
- It’s mentioned a few times that Kayla was reading a book throughout her adventure, but couldn’t focus on it with everything going on. Out of curiosity, what book was she reading?
This is so funny — I actually don’t even know! I just wrote that it was sci-fi — maybe something from Orson Scott Card? I did, however, know exactly what book Grady was reading: Under the Dome. It’s my way-too-subtle Stephen King nod. Plus I’m pretty sure I was reading it while I edited my book so I snuck it in.