Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Venetian Betrayal - Steve Berry

2007; 550 pages. Book #3 of Berry's "Cotton Malone" series. Genre : Action-Thriller; Cri-Fi. Overall Rating : A-.
Someone's collecting a group of ancient medallions that were minted to commemorate Alexander The Great's semi-victorious campaign in India. They're doing this by stealing them out of museums, then torching the buildings to cover up the thefts. Cotton Malone becomes involved when he's included as part of the kindling at one of the heists.
What's To Like...
It's a "busy" book, with a bunch of storylines. To wit : a search for Alexander The Great's grave; finding a cure for HIV; political intrigue in a newly-formed Alt-History nation in Central Asia made from the various "-stans" there (Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, etc.); a secret order of Venetian businessmen; the re-invention of Greek Fire; and last but not least - what's so cotton-pickin' important about those medallions?
Berry deftly interweaves all these lines. The action is non-stop, there are a bunch of red-herrings, and a zillion plot-twists. The tale teeters on having too many twists - is the one character a septuple or an octuple agent? But it keeps you on your toes.
All this action and plot comes at the cost of character development - everyone is either black or white. Indeed, one of the main characters, Irina Zovastina, starts out "3-D gray", but towards the end she's "2-D black". One of her (wounded) soldiers heroically saves her, and she rewards him by shooting him in the head. Actually, she ends up killing lots of her fellow black-hats, yet is curiously averse to offing any of the good guys/gals.
Kewl New Words...
Most of the new words were technical ones - dealing with architecture, medical research, etc. Some of these were : Mullioned (divided by vertical bars of wood or stone, such as a 'mullioned window'); Campanile (a bell tower, usually as a separate structure); Cartonnage (a type of material used for Egyptian funeral masks, consisting of layers of linen or papyrus and covered with plaster).
And you, adventurer, for my immortal voice,
though far off, fills your ears, hear my words,
Sail unto the capital founded by Alexander's father,
where sages stand guard.
Touch the innermost being of the golden illusion.
Divide the phoenix.
Life provides the measure of the true grave.
But be wary, for there is but one chance of success.
Climb the god-built walls.
When you reach the attic, gaze into the tawny eye,
and dare to find the distant refuge.
(pg. 130. this is the riddle to be solved)
It was a Berry good book...
I liked The Venetian Betrayal, even if there were a couple eye-rolling moments. The cri-fi aspect (finding a cure for HIV) was done well enough to where one reviewer felt compelled to tell us why Berry's solution doesn't work. Well duh. Too many twists is much to be preferred over too few. The characters could've been developed a bit more, but then we'd have a 900-page tome. We'll give it an "A-", and note that the next book in the series, The Charlemagne Pursuit, is sitting on my TBR shelf.

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