Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Eight by Katherine Neville

Katherine Neville's The Eight was one of those books that always caught my eye but never quite made it to my TBR. At least until Neville penned a sequel in 2008.

Considering it originally released back in 1989, The Eight was definitely one I was too young to read when it first hit shelves. But that new release in '08 was the perfect opportunity for me to finally discover what all the fuss was about. And now that the folks at Open Road Media have released the title as part of their Iconic Ebooks series (along with A Calculated Risk and The Magic Circle) it's the perfect opportunity for a whole new batch of readers to discover Neville!

(Newbies to Neville's work may not realize this, but The Eight, which is often compared to The Da Vinci Code, originally released over a decade before Robert Langdon burst onto the book scene! The popularity of Brown's series meant another chance to gain traction with new readers, hence the comparisons.)

In the days of Charlemagne, it was rumored that the King had been gifted with a chess set that gave its owner power beyond imagining. The set, deemed to be too dangerous to fall into the wrong hands, was hidden at Montglane Abbey where it would remain for almost a century.

1790 - the French Revolution has led to much turmoil in France and an effort has been made to strip the clergy and their buildings of all wealth, which means Montglane Abbey is at serious risk. Cousins Mireille and Valentine are just novices at the time and don't know the legend that has made their Abbey famous. But they're about to find out. 

1972 - Cat Velis has just been assigned to OPEC in Algeria. When a local antiques dealer learns of the move, he asks Cat to assist in the buying (and smuggling) of the legendary Montglane Service, placing the young computer expert in grave danger. 

Two things - first, yes the book is about chess. But, for someone who barely knows any of the rules and has never played a game, it's still a fantastic read. In other words, Neville makes chess exciting! Second, the Montglane Service is 100% fiction. Neville builds such a fortified history and mythology around her created subject that it does seem real. Enough so that I'm sure I'm not the first person to google Charlemagne's chess set.

I didn't review The Eight when I first read it, but I did note back then how pleasantly surprised I was to find that the book held up. There's a bit of nostalgic amusement to be had at some of the details that are dated (Pan Am, the USSR, no cell phones...) but again, even after my present reread, I have to say the book holds up remarkably well!

The Eight does not, however, lend itself well to a quick nutshell summary. My attempt at doing so has turned into rambling paragraphs of "oh, and then this" details, which could be why I didn't review it way back when. Seriously, we move from the Reign of Terror in France to Catherine the Great, cameos from folks like Bach, and the history of math and chess, to 1970's New York, chess politics, the KGB..., there's a LOT going on. But given all of that how could you imagine this book would be anything but exciting?

Not to mention our heroine(s). Cat is fabulous! She's gutsy and has a strong moral code - Algeria is actually a punishment thanks to that. And Mireille and Valentine are equally wonderful. Young and innocent, but determined to continue with their mission to protect the Montglane Service even in the midst of the awful violence of The Terror.

And yes, The Eight is a chunkster weighing in at just under 600 pages. It's definitely more... cerebral?... than Da Vinci Code, but it's not a hard or heavy read at all. The story alternates between the two timelines and moves along at a rather nice pace, which means that it's quite easy to binge and read a few hundred pages at a time without even realizing it!

Readers, if you're looking for a clever literary puzzler, The Eight is the book for you. This is absolutely a book that I would consider a modern classic. It's one I believe should continue to be prominently featured in readers' TBR stacks for a long, long time and I think Open Road Media's newest edition will allow it to do so.

Rating: Still 5/5

1 comment:

Kay said...

I love Open Road for bringing a bunch of older books to the attention of new readers. I'm definitely going to get to this one at some point. Good to hear your experience.