Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Fire by Katherine Neville

rating: 4/5

As one who absolutely devoured Katherine Neville's The Eight (back when I was in high school), I was floored when an unexpected copy of The Fire arrived on my doorstep. Thrilled, really, yet I couldn't imagine how she could possibly pull off a book as complex and riveting as The Eight.

Even if you have never read The Eight, the plot of The Fire grabs you from the first chapter. Alexandra, a genius twelve year old chess player, has arrived in Russia with her father for a tournament. The results of that trip and the ensuing ten years come to a head when Alexandra's mother is suddenly missing - with a string of clues left behind for Alexandra to decipher. Very quickly it becomes clear that her mother's disappearance is only one piece in a much bigger puzzle, involving many players, some dangerous: a handsome Russian grandmaster, an eccentric aunt, and a Basque chef, none of whom are quite what they seem at first.

One thing that I appreciated about this novel is the fact that from one moment to the next, we don't know who is on Alexandra's side and who is against her. It's as though the plot is a giant knot made of kite's string - and the entire novel is spent with Neville slowly unwinding and revealing answers. The past is as relevant as the present in this book - we spend many chapters in 19th century Europe and the Middle East, where people and places click into place in the larger Game. Chess - the game of kings - is practically a character itself and the book plays out as if Alexandra and everyone she interacts with are making moves within the deadliest game yet.

You almost cannot place this book within a genre. It is most definitely a mystery and a thriller, part historical fiction with a lovely thread of romance. There is also an otherworldly, fantastic element - laced with legend and ancient theories that somehow fit in so well with the rest of the book that my disbelief was pleasantly suspended. On a couple different occasions, the history got a bit too detailed for me, almost bogging the plot down, but then something exciting would happen and the plot would be up and moving again. While the plot is certainly intricate - amazingly intricate - Neville helps the reader throughout the book by having our characters go through what we do know, what we don't understand and what we need to puzzle out next. And those puzzles and riddles, as well as the suspense and the characters we come to care about, are the reasons why I could not put this incredible book down.


Joy said...

I saw that you wrote a wrap-up post for the YA Challenge and I came to congratulate you - BUT it's missing!

Well . . . I hope you enjoyed all your reads. :)

Michelle said...

How would this book do for a book club discussion?

Corinne said...

Michelle - I think it might be too long for some people. If you've got a dedicated group, though, it could be an interesting discussion :)

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