Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Eight by Katherine Neville

It took me forever to read this nearly 600-page book and I'm afraid it will be difficult for me to be concise in this review. There were so many things going on in this crazy web of a novel.

Two stories flip-flop back and forth throughout the course of the novel: one begins in an abbey in France in 1790 and the other begins at the end of 1972 in New York City. The 1790 storyline starts by telling the story of The Montglane Service. A storied chess set belonging to Charlemagne which supposedly holds the secret to infinite power. It was extremely dangerous if all the pieces of the Montglane Service were united. There were people searching for the pieces to gain this power and others who worked hard to make sure the pieces did not fall into the wrong hands. It fell to a young nun named Mireille to keep the pieces safe and we follow her journey to discover the secret contained in the chess set. According to the novel, many were after the Montglane Service including Catherine the Great, her son Paul I, and Napoleon. The novel really is a fictionalized account of European history.

Fast-forward to the 1970 storyline. We meet Catherine Velis, an incredibly smart woman on the rise in the computer industry. She is the only woman in the company she works for, and when she stands up for herself against her boss, he retaliates by sending her on assignment in Algiers. After Catherine witnesses two murders just before her trip to Algiers, and encounters a Fortune Teller who tells her not to go to Algiers, she is intrigued. She enlists the help of several friends: a physicist named Nim, a chess player named Lily Rad and her family, as well as Solarin, a Russian chess player with a mysterious side to him. She figures out that the Fortune Teller's message is in code, and through a series of events she becomes very involved in a worldwide hunt for the mysterious Montglane Service.

I spent the entire book trying to figure out how everything pieced together and while the book becomes extremely long in the middle, it finishes quite well. The two storylines eventually come together in a somewhat mystical way. Chess is the entire book, not just about the chess set, but we learn the characters in the book are playing a real life game of chess. The question is: Who will win The Game?

The blurb on the front of the book compares it to The Da Vinci Code. In my opinion, this book is far superior to that. It is much more well-written and not quite so sensational. I felt The Eight was an incredibly dense and academic book. I was treated to a history lesson of late 18th century France and the start of the French Revolution. In the more present day story, OPEC and the politics/social customs of Algiers take center stage. I don't think this book needed to be 600 pages. I think it would have done fine at 450 with a little less description. Mireille's journey gets to be a little bit tedious. I also think there were just too many characters. At the end of the book, I was still saying to myself, "Okay, now who was that character's brother again?" It was difficult for me to remember and keep all the relationships straight.

But I must say I thought it was a good book. And I find it amazing how intricately Neville weaves all the characters and stories together. She clearly did an incredible amount of research in order to create this novel. I can't say I enjoyed this read because it really did seem like work to get through the book. But I liked the story and liked where it ended up. If you are looking for a bit of a more dense read and like puzzles and working things out I really would recommend this book. I give this one 4 stars only because it is too long, otherwise it would have been 4.5 or 5 stars for me.

Look for a review of the sequel, The Fire coming in the next couple weeks. Just have to throw in a few light reads before I tackle that one. :-)


allisonmariecat said...

Ooh, this sounds GOOD! Thank you for making it through it so I can add it to my TBR pile :)

Jen Robinson said...

This is one of my favorite books. I read it twice (a rare thing for me for an adult title), in part because of the complexity that you mentioned. There's a sequel coming out in October (after quite a few years since the first one was published), and I'm looking forward to it.

Lisa said...

I've been carrying this one around for years thinking I'd read it one day. So far, no dice. This makes me more interested though, thanks.