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Sunday, January 09, 2011

cover of Katherine Neville's 'The Eight'

In the 1970s, Cat Velis is a computer expert working with big-business clients until she gets sent to Algeria as a kind of punishment for not playing along with the boys' club and throwing a bid as she was asked to do. In 1790s France, Mireille and Valentine are two novices at the convent of Montglane Abbey. With the political unrest of the French Revolution, the Abbess decides she must unearth the mystical treasure that has been hidden at Montglane-- a chess set given to Charlemagne, that is, according to legend, incredibly valuable beyond the gold, silver, and jewels of the pieces themselves, but some secret equation encoded in the pieces and the board. The Abbess unearths them and scatters the pieces with nuns and novices sent out from Montglane, in order to keep the entire set from falling into the wrong hands. The stories in the two different time-lines proceed in parallel, and Cat discovers that she is caught up in something involving the same chess set that Mireille was, and that some of those pieces may be in Algeria.

To some extent, there is a fun, puzzle-like quality to this book-- games of chess, messages with hidden, coded messages, characters acting as various chess players, and the connections between the stories in the two different time-lines. It is fun when the book gives you the same information and allows you to figure things out alongside the characters. It was also amusing to see how many famous historical figures Neville manages to weave into the older storyline, all with connections to chess or the Montglane service.

I thought I had read this book a couple of times before, at least, and enjoyed it on re-reading; so I was surprised at how preposterous and far-fetched so many parts of it seemed this time through. The first time through you are reading for the plot and the mystery, so it's a pretty engaging thrill-ride. I've read other Katherine Neville books and been disappointed with them, because they all seemed like knock-offs of The Eight without its magic, so it was a bit strange to discover myself not enjoying the original all that much. I've known for a while that Neville had a newer book out, The Fire, and I've been curious to read it, but once I learned that it was actually a sequel to The Eight, I thought I would re-read the original first.

Title:The Eight
Author:Katherine Neville
Date published:1988
Number of pages:598
Notes:repeat reading


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