Book Review: The Eight

So, it’s been a bit since I’ve updated. Between illnesses, work, writing, losing a draft due to a computer meltdown and more illnesses, I’ve gotten crazy far behind on reviews and on reading as well. Hopefully, life will simmer down in the next few weeks to something a little less insane.

So, I think I’ve mentioned before that much of what I read tends to stick within a few genres, typically the classics and literary fiction with a smidge of historical fiction thrown in. I have been attempting to read somewhat outside of my comfort zone this summer. The results, I’ve found, have been fairly mixed.

It is nice to try and leave your comfort zone every now and then. I had the pleasure of reading “The Eight” by Katherine Neville.

“The Eight” was published in 1988 (hey, it’s two years younger than me!) and is basically the precursor to things like “The Da Vinci Code”. The story is essentially a thriller with two interwoven story lines set centuries apart.cover69655-medium-2

The first plot line takes place in the midst of the French Revolution where a young woman, Mireille and her cousin are charged with assisting to disperse the pieces of the Montglane Service,  a chess set once belonging to Charlemange in order to keep them out of the hands of those who would use them to do harm. The second story concerns Cat Velis and is centered in New York City and Algeria during the 1970s. Cat is ignorant of both chess and the chess set, but in time, comes to understand and accept her role in gathering the pieces of the Montglane Service.

I actually enjoyed “The Eight” though I was a bit skeptical at first. As I’ve said, novels like “The Da Vinci” code owe quite a debt to Neville’s work and I wasn’t exactly fond of “The Da Vinci code”. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed “The Eight.” To be sure, it’s not exactly cerebral reading. This isn’t the sort of novel you read for complex examinations of the human condition. It’s a quick, fast, easy read that’s enjoyable and perfectly serviceable.

I’m certain that there are some readers out there who most likely disliked the interwoven plots and the moves back and forth between them. This is a narrative device that I tend to like at times and dislike at others, depending solely on how well the author constructs and navigates between them. I found that the interwoven structure of “The Eight” worked pretty well. I didn’t feel as if too much time was spent with Cat or Mireille and not enough with the other.

This probably has something to do with the characterization. Again, this is not exactly the heaviest tome and I wasn’t expecting deep characterization. If that is what you’re expecting, you will be disappointed. This is an incredibly plot heavy and plot driven work and that has to be remembered and taken into consideration. I do feel that there was enough character work done to make all of the characters individual, distinctive and interesting and this benefits the novel as a whole.

It’s easy, I think, for authors to lose track of their characters and their personalities once they start using interwoven plots as a device. It’s far too simple to do too much work with character in one plot line and not enough with the other — or to do very little with all the characters. Neville here did just enough work to not distract from her plot, but also to keep us interested with her characters. I did feel more interested in and at home with the characters of the 70s. I found it easier to connect with them and formed greater attachments to them. But I do feel that Neville must be praised for not allowing her characters to get lost in the shuffle of two very plot heavy timelines.

The one thing that bothered me about “The Eight” is that a romance occurs between Cat and a chess grand master named Solarin. Solarin is also caught up in Cat’s quest for the pieces and the romance that blooms between the two is, for me, simply unnecessary. The two characters have met for perhaps three or four times by the time they’ve declared themselves to be in love. I can never buy these sorts of declarations as it really just seems to be “falling in lust” and I found it utterly unnecessary in “The Eight”. I would have preferred that the time spent on the romance between Solarin and Cat to have been spent on the actual quest for the pieces.

All in all, “The Eight” isn’t a perfect book for me. I tend to prefer books that are far less plot heavy and more dense in characterization. However, I did find “The Eight” to be a quick, gripping read. It’s worth a shot, as long as you bear in mind the limitations of the genre and book itself.