I picked up this book at Eloor Library, because the blurb on the cover stated Readers thrilled by The DaVinci Code will relish the multi-layered secrets of The Eight. The blurb was sooo right, because I just loved this book.
It is very difficult to describe this book in a nutshell, but I will give it a go anyway. The story is about a magnificent chess set called the Montglane Service. Hidden in it is a secret formula that can provide unlimited powers to the person who uncovers the secret.
The story is set in two time frames—1972, and at the time of the French Revolution, during the Terror, in 1790 and beyond.
The story is about a race by two different sides that have deliberately taken on identities as the Black and White “teams” in chess, to collect the pieces of the Montglane Service that were scattered, as a precautionary measure during the French Revolution. Murders occur in both periods during this struggle for obtaining a means to what is thought to be unlimited power.
The adventure in the book is top-notch. There are car chases, exotic locations, and bad guys to outwit. However, there are also sections of the book that made me close the book and reflect on what I was reading. This is not just a time-pass thriller. There is loads of information on alchemy, physics, chess, mathematics, history, and a heavy dose of mysticism. It is quite apparent that a lot of research has gone into the writing of this book.
The parts I loved best were all the chess manoeuvrings. I also really loved the fact that the whole novel is structured like a giant chess game. You have one of the main characters Catherine Velis starting out as a pawn, and slowly gaining energy and strength as she moves across the board to replace the Black Queen. She eventually becomes the Black Queen and checks the White King. Really superb stuff! It is also real fun to try and guess who is playing which part in the chess game.
OK, from the above para you would have guessed that only chess-lovers can enjoy this book. That’s true to a certain extent. You could enjoy this book merely as an adventure story even if you do not enjoy / know chess. But, if you like chess, you will truly love and appreciate this book, and understand all the nuances.
By no means is this a perfect book. There were a couple of minor, irritating flaws. Katherine Neville’s habit of injecting a phrase like little did she know that her actions would blah, blah, blah in order to keep the reader informed of events unfolding was downright irritating.
There were also a bit too many (almost gratuitous) actual historical characters moving in and out of the plot. Talleyrand, Catherine the Great, Napoleon, Robespierre, Voltaire, William Blake, William Wordsorth, and tons more personalities populate the book. Of these, only Talleyrand, Catherine the Great, and Napoleon actually move the story forward. The rest were not really required.
There was also one more plot-inconsistency, however, I don’t want to blog about it and give the plot away here.
But at the end of the day, I just re-iterate what the blurb on the book cover said – If you have read The DaVinci Code and enjoyed it then you will probably find this book enjoyable also. One caveat- this is not as easy a read as DaVinci code.
After reading this book, I kept having vivid mental images of beautiful chess pieces, so I just had to search for some beautiful chess imagery to share here…