Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Fire by Katherine Neville


In this long-awaited sequel, Alexandra Solarin, a chess-wizard and only daughter of Cat Velis, the heroine of THE EIGHT, arrives at her mother's Colorado lodge, only to discover that her mother has disappeared. Finding string of clues, Alexandra is soon joined by a group of people called there by her mother, including her aunt Lily, who explains the truth of Cat's past.

In 1822, as the fortress of Sultan Ali Pasha falls to the Turks, the Sultan's daughter Haidee attempts a desperate journey taking her through Albania, Morocco and Rome, while carrying an invaluable object and seeking the one man who can help her: the poet George Gordon, Lord Byron.

Ultimately both Alexandra and Haidee learn that their missions are even more desperate than they first seem, for both are players in a dangerous game, a game that began more than a millennium before either of them were born and that has the power to affect the fate of human civilization itself.

Twenty years ago, Katherine Neville's book, The Eight was published to great acclaim. It defied genre - it was a swashbuckling adventure, it had romance, the epic worldwide settings, intricate mysteries, strong female characters and sexy Russian chess masters. I have tried reading The Eight at least once every two years since I first picked it up in high school. If I had to choose a book that changed the way I saw authors and their skill, it would be The Eight. Because of The Eight, I learned to play chess (badly), my love for adventure and mystery novels were born, and importantly my obsession with quest novels - I can't get enough of them. Also, I discovered my dream car: the Morgan Lily Rad drives in the novel.

When a long-time fan of MFB told me that that Katherine Neville is writing a sequel to The Eight I was thrilled and when I was offered a copy to read by a very kind publicity assistant at Harper Collins, I jumped at the chance to read the sequel, The Fire.

The long wait has been worth it. We are introduced, from the very first pages, to Alexandra, Cat and Sasha's daughter. Through Alexandra we take each step forwards to uncovering the mystery surrounding her mother's disappearance. The Game has begun again - pieces of the mysterious and beautiful Montglane Service has reappeared, triggering the start of a new adventure for the various players.

The author deftly describes far-flung places as if it is her habit to take weekend jaunts there. She pulls us effortlessly into the past and history comes to life as she uses real events to elaborate on her storyline.

Ms. Neville has always excelled in drawing vibrant characters and in The Fire she reprises the roles of many of the characters from The Eight. Favourites are Lily Rad, Alexandra's one-time chess tutor and the other is Ladislaus Nim, Alexandra's uncle, enigmatic recluse and computer genius.

Ms. Neville is also one of the best dialogue writers I've ever seen. The dialogue fizzes and characters' stories are told in flashbacks that do not detract from the existing urgency in the novel - and that in itself is hard to do! (Read ANY book on writing and you will see that they warn aspiring writers about flashbacks/back stories - they slow the story down, they are boring and should be used sparingly.) Ms. Neville flies in the face of all of this and comes out trumps.

The action is relentless. Intermingled with chess analogies you are taught bits of history, alchemy, the occult, poetry, religion and cooking and you are never bored by any of the characters as they all manage to hold their piece of stage by being plotted and created really well. If you've not had the chance to read The Eight, but you would like to get stuck into The Fire, do so - although it would be an advantage to have read The Eight, The Fire is very much its own creature and stands alone very nicely.

The Fire is a feast - it delves deep into mythology and legend and demands your attention - there is no skipping scenes here, because if you do, you will miss crucial information to help uncover the new players of The Game. The story is multi-layered and it a strong compelling read.

About the author:

Born in 1945, Katherine Neville has had an extraordinary life, living in almost every state in North America. Aside from her work as an international bestselling author, she has worked as an international computer executive, a painter, photographer, and a waitress. Katherine lives in Virginia, Washington and Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Find the link to her website here.

The Fire will be published by Harper Collins on 17th November 2008 in hardback and will be available from most good bookshops and online.

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