Sunday, August 10, 2008

THE FIRE, Katherine Neville

Sometimes just as you awaken, for an instant you see the threads of wisdom and knowledge that flow through the universe linking the past and future of mankind. It is as if you suddenly have the key to enlightenment. That was the feeling I had time and again when I read Katherine Neville’s first novel, THE EIGHT.

I found the book so incredible that I kept wondering how she came up with her ideas – how did she manage to translate those few, rare moments into a book that captured the imagination as it traveled from present day to the French Revolution, linking the past and present so seamlessly through puzzles, clues, games and the forces of good and evil?

I had stumbled upon the book when it first came out and soon found myself recommending it to friends so we could discuss it. THE EIGHT also provided the impetus to form a book club and was of course the first book we ever read and discussed as a group.

So, after more than 20 years, Neville has continued the story and of course “the game” that started in THE EIGHT with her new book, THE FIRE. Drawing from historical references and time periods as well as from the present day, Neville has written another stunning novel for those with inquiring minds.

THE FIRE centers on Alexandra Solarin, daughter of Catherine Velis the main character from THE EIGHT. A former child chess prodigy who quit playing after a traumatic incident in her youth, Alexandra is living a quiet, uneventful life in Washington, DC but has a series of adventures that catapult her from the safety of life as a sous chef to the middle of “the game” and the frantic search for her missing mother.

This being a Neville novel, Cat Velis has left her daughter a series of riddles and clues to discover and decode based on mystical chess set. Alexandra is now playing a life and death game with terrifying consequences that reach across the centuries to the Ottoman Empire, and involve such well known figures as Lord Byron, George Washington and Catherine the Great.

A White Queen, a Black Queen, a chessboard, links to Islam, references to current events such the war in Iraq, and many gambits keep the reader guessing about the truth of the chess set. Pay attention because the large cast of characters, many historical shifts, and abundance of information may cause overload but also keeps the reader captivated.

If you like puzzles from sudoku to cryptograms, are intrigued by history, enjoy quirky but believable characters (the kind of people you’d love to claim you’ve met), and if you loved THE EIGHT, then get this book. If you just want something interesting to read, get this book. You don’t have be a devotee of THE EIGHT to enjoy it (but you should read it anyway).

You’ll finish THE FIRE, ponder it and want to discuss it with friends because it so much more than just a novel. It is another book for inquisitive minds and readers who like mystery, romance, suspense, history, and imaginative writing all in one book. Buy it October 14. You won’t be disappointed in playing “the game” once again because this book like THE EIGHT, is a chance to discover a little bit of enlightenment from the mind of Katherine Neville.