Monday, November 10, 2008

Review: The Fire by Katherine Neville

Thinking the trip is much too dangerous, Cat Velis begs her husband, Alexander Solarin, not to take their daughter, 12 year old Alexandra Solarin , to Russia for a chess tournament. Even so, they travel to the walled park of Zagorsk for the match. While waiting in line to get into the vestry where the match is to be held, an old woman brushes past Alexandra and leaves her with an embossed card with the Russian word for danger on it. Alexander gets a quick look at the old woman but she can’t possibly be who he thinks she is, can she? He grabs his daughter’s hand to chase after the old woman when their world explodes .As a master story-teller, Neville really knows how to ramp up the suspense and intrigue. By the end of the prologue I was hooked.

We fast forward ten years to adult Alexandra, also know an Xie, receiving a very cryptic invitation from her mother to a birthday party. Xie thinks this is a little odd since her mother never celebrates her birthday and actually does not like to even tell people the date. Even though she has not had much communication from her in five years, she travels to Colorado only to find her mother missing. Several others, including her aunt Lily , her best friend Nokomis Key and Vartan Azvov, young chess master, also show up at the house. When Xie finds a chess set with a game in progress that was the same game she was playing when her father was shot, along with a mysterious set of clues, Xie feels she must search out her mother.

The story alternates from one century to the present. From the past we learn the history of the Montglane Chess set, a very powerful set made for Charlemagne. Most of the pieces have been hidden around the world and many people have looked for them. Vividly portrayed are those who over a span of many years coveted it’s power and those who did all they could to protect the pieces of the set, some dying while making the attempt. In the present we follow Xie, her aunt Lily and others as she tries to find her mother, one of the people who had hidden numerous pieces of the set twenty years previously. But now Xie wonders if” The Game “is back on? There are a lot of heart thumping moments as Xie does not know who to trust or distrust during her search. The reader will be deeply enthralled with all the intrigue and mystery related to this highly valued chess set, anxiously turning each page to see the outcome.

One criteria I have of a good book is that it makes the characters memorable long after the last page is read. Another aspect of a good book is an element of the story that makes you want to read further on that subject. Although this is a book of fiction, the historical parts are so well researched I found myself wanting to read books on the Turkish Empire , Charlemagne or more on the French revolution. Many interesting aspects make up this book such as the intermingling of elements: mystery, thriller, puzzles, international intrigue and even some romance.

Although The Fire is sequel to The Eight, it is a stand alone book but if you have not previously read The Eight, one of the most compellingly intriguing books ever, I recommend that you read it. There is a tremendous amount of fascinating history that will greatly enhance your understanding of The Fire. The characters are plausible, likeable and most are well developed. I think a few of the main characters could have been a little sharper. Historical figures are easily blended in with the fictional ones. The story is well paced and transitions smoothly from one time frame to the next with deep layers of complexity richly told. Neville’s descriptions transport the reader right into the scene. With some thrillers and international conspiracies, the readers’ need to suspend disbelief is implied. A few of the puzzle solving scenarios in the beginning I found a bit implausible but still and all a very enjoyable read . Highly recommended
Thank you to Katherine Neville for an advance copy of this book.


  1. I just bought this book yesterday. But I bought The Eight, too, because even though The Fire seems to be stand-alone, my book OCD won't let me touch it without reading The Eight first. ;)

    Glad to hear you like it!

  2. You write the best reviews! I read about this book before and although it sounded interesting the chess theme turned me off. After reading what you wrote, it now sounds like the best book ever and I should run out and buy it now. You wrote better than what was already provided for the book. Great job!

    I'm testing out a new avatar. I've been looking and looking for an image I wanted to use. This was one of them but I'm just not sure. I really should be spending my time in much better ways. I certainly have other things to do. They just aren't much fun.

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