Thursday, October 29, 2015

Review: The Eight


Katherine Neville
The Eight
By Katherine Neville
Ballantine, January 1990

About the Book

Computer expert Cat Velis is heading to Algeria for a job. Before she goes, a mysterious fortune teller warns her of danger, and an antique dealer asks her to search for pieces to a valuable chess set that has been missing for years.

In the South of France in 1790 two convent girls hide valuable pieces of a chess set all over the world, because the game that can be played with them is too powerful . . .

My Review

Catherine Velis, a rather reclusive computer geek, is headed to a new job working with OPEC in Algeria. But before she leaves New York, she attends a game of chess masters where someone is murdered. Catherine and her friend Lily must run from bullet fire. Cat becomes ensnared in “the game”, a quest, hundreds of years old, to find the hidden “Montglane service”, the chess set supposedly owned by Charlemagne and the key to some elusive formula that all of the world’s most powerful individuals desire. Cat dives head first into an ongoing struggle that is a mixture of magic, science, politics, chess, and greed, where no one is who they seem and many are willing to die to get the prize.

Where do the Freemasons, Catherine the Great, OPEC, Charlemagne, chess, Napoleon, alchemy, Newton, and the French Revolution intersect? The sheer number of historical figures and mysteries, not to mention chess, literary, and musical references, becomes baffling over the course of this 600-plus page novel. The result is a muddled, random, and loosely connected plot that jumps between two centuries and even more viewpoints.

Rather than enjoying the enormous amount of research that went into the book, the reader feels steamrolled by a tangle of facts and names. When the narrative scope is this large, you tend to lose depth, and that is what happens here. It’s also rather difficult to get excited about this chess set. We are told it’s powerful, created with precious stones, and desired by virtually every notable historical figure. But the power the set commands remains unspecified, so it’s hard to stay involved with the story when the treasure’s underlying allure isn’t identified until the very end of the novel. Six hundred pages is a long time to find out why the set is so sought after.

This book was first published nearly 30 years ago, and many online mention that this novel was the precursor to historical adventure/thriller-type novels in the vein of The Da Vinci Code. If true, this book played a large role in creating the genre that so many enjoy today. Perhaps after so much time and many best-selling historical thrillers since, it is impossible to judge this book in its proper context. Still, it’s hard to get absorbed by a treasure hunt when you aren’t certain why the treasure is so valuable.

Rebecca Henderson Palmer

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