Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Fire - Katherine Neville

2008; 441 pages. Sequel to "The Eight", which is reviewed here. Genre : Cospiracy Fiction. Overall Rating : 3*/10.
21-year-old Alexandra "Xie" Solarin returns to her mother's Colorado lodge for a birthday celebration, only to find that her mom, "Cat" Velis, has flown the coop, but has left some intriguing puzzles as clues. The next round of "The Game" has begun, and like it or not, Alexandra finds that she is an integral part of it.
What's To Like...
The Fire has the same structure as The Eight. There are two interwoven storylines; one set in the present (2003, actually); the other set in 1822, in various countries around the Mediterranean Sea.
Once again, there are some cool settings - Italy, the Rocky Mountains, Morocco, the Alaska-Russia border, and Albania. When's the last time you read a book set in Albania? There are lots of historical references, some kewl French phrases (always a plus for me), and even a romance or two. As in The Eight, Neville does a lot of name-dropping (Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, Thomas Jefferson, Tallyrand, Alexander Dumas, to name a few), but I like that.
Alas, it's what's missing that pulls down the score. First and foremost - a lack of action. We spend 430 pages fleeing from danger with Xie. But said danger doesn't make an appearance until there's only 10 pages to go. And the relatively wimpy threat devolves into an unsatisfying ending.
The1822 storyline suffers similarly. Early on, our heroine is in a castle, and the Ottoman Turk enemies are literally breaking down the doors to the room. Haidee, accompanied by a lone warder, has to flee the castle, make her way through the beseiging Turkish army lines, board a waiting ship and flee to Italy. But once at sea, pirates attack the ship, and all aboard are taken as slaves to Morocco. The warder escapes, but Haidee is put in the Sultan's harem, Until he dies, when she is auctioned off as a slave.
Well, that certainly sounds like action, doesn't it? Unfortunately, it's all in the background. At the end of one chapter, Haidee is told to flee the castle. At the start of the next, she's in the harem preparing to be demoted. How boring.
There are lots of twists, but they never seem to go anywhere. And although the chess motif is again present, it becomes evident Ms. Neville doesn't play. "I picked up the kinght and put it on d4. I was still looking at the board some moments later when I realized that Vartan hadn't yet made his opening move." (pg. 397). Um, yeah. Just one problem. It isn't possible to play Nd4 as White's first move. Sloppy, sloppy.
Kewl New Words...
Analemma : the figure-eight path that you'd see if you took photos of the sun from the exact same place at the exact same time over the course of a year. Penury : a state of poverty. Pourboire : A small amount of money given for services rendered. Hermeneutics : the study of the theory of interpretation (usually "scriptural"). Oh yeah, Factotum appeared again. I'm being stalked by that word.
Eremon always called Rodo "E.B." for "Eredolf Boujaron", a Basque "in" joke that he'd shared with Leda and me on one of our very late ciderfest nights. Apparently there are no names or words in Basque that begin with R : hence Eremon's name - Ramon in Spanish, Raymond in French. And Rodolfo seemed almost Italian. This linguistic flaw would seem to make Rodo something of a Basque Basqtard. (pg. 168)
The attendant shook his head and pointed upstream, toward Washington, D.C. The man with the shades reached in his jacket and pulled out a phone.
I had that sinking feeling. We were out here in the middle of the river on an open boat, like a crate of eggplants awaiting delivery. (pg. 311)
I am ashes where once I was fire,
And the bard in my bosom is dead,
What I loved I now merely admire -
And my heart is as gray as my head. (Lord Byron, and pg. 321).
In the end, the negatives outweigh the positives. This is not a stand-alone book. You have to read The Eight first, and alas, The Fire pales in comparison to that.
I can only give it three stars. OTOH, the co-worker who originally turned me on to The Eight, also read The Fire, and felt that they both were equally good. So maybe its just me.


Amanda said...

I can't decide if I want to read this one or not.

Hamilcar Barca said...

this had too much pointless yabbering for me. after hundreds of pages of being cvonstantly reminded of a looming danger, i started getting peeved at the baddies for failing to show up.

still, YMMV. my co-worker loved it, and he usually has good literary tastes.