Monday, August 17, 2009

Review: The Eight by Katherine Neville

I have already reviewed The Eight for Suite101 (you can find the review here). However, since I am hosting a giveaway of both this novel and its sequel, I thought it would be nice to revisit the book and write a new review, which should speak better to the readers of this blog.
The Eight was originally published in 1988 and caused quite a stir on the literary scene. Before this novel, there were no such books like The Rule of Four, no such writers as Dan Brown. Katherine Neville's novel was innovative on many different levels - it had two parallel storylines, it blurred genre boundaries, posing as historical fiction, romance and literary fiction at the same time. Finally, it used historical figures as characters, deliberately throwing them into a plot that mixed conspiracy theories, mathematics, history, literature, and of course, chess.

Retelling the story of The Eight is not an easy feat, because of its many layers. It is safe to say that it follows two female protagonists, one living in modern-day New York City, and one living in France at around the time of the French Revolution. The modern-day hero is Catherine, a computer expert and chess enthusiast, who is suddenly sent to Algeria on business. While there, she gets involved in dangerous, seemingly random situations that are all somehow connected to a mythical chess set. On the other hand, we have Mireille, a novice nun in 18th-century France, who is sent on a mission, along with her cousin Valentine, to scatter what appear to be figures from an ancient chess set. Many important historical figures appear along the way, including Robespierre, Napoleon and Katherine the Great.

The Eight is not a paranormal story about witches, sorcerers and their powers. Rather, it is a book that uses the clever metaphor of chess to portray the ways people act when confronted to danger, and how easy it can be to progress, or on the other hand, get into harm's way. This is all packed into an engaging thriller that will leave your head spinning after each chapter, all the way until the very end. The characters are all made out of flesh and blood. Although they are essentially the good guys, our heroins soon learn that in order to win this deadly Game, they need to take a few detours themselves. Apart from them, the supporting characters are amazing as well, especially Catherine's romantic interest, the mysterious - and quite possibly dangerous - chess master Alexander Solarin.
Katherine Neville's groundbreaking novel has often been called the female answer to Umberto Eco's "The Name of the Rose", as well as the novel that defined the genre of Quest Novels, by that influencing many of today's writers, such as Dan Brown and J.K. Rowling.
To win a copy of The Eight, click here.


Ryan G said...

Great review of one of my favorite books ever. I have read this one probably close to 20 times and enver get tired of it.

Jenny said...

I remember this confusing me before... does the main character have the same name as the author, just spelled differently?

Blodeuedd said...

5/5, that sure makes the book worth checking out. Though it's hard to tell for me since I am not that much of a thriller fan, but the story sounds so good

Nikola said...

Ryan, I'm like that as well!

Jenny, you are right. The author's name is Katherine, and the protagonist's name is Catherine.

Make sure you enter the giveaway, Blodeuedd, so you can win it!

Lauren said...

Excellent review! You made me want to read the book!

Jenny Girl said...

I read one of her other books, I think it was the magic circle or something. It was decent. The main character was a bit irksome, but the plot was a great idea.
I'll have to check this one out.

Nikola said...

Yes Jenny, The Magic Circle is a book by Katherine Neville. I haven't read it, unfortunately :(

Anonymous said...

Wonderful review. My sister and mother read The Eight this summer and absolutely LOVED it. They have been trying to convince me to read it all summer,but I lacked any real interest because I didn't really get what the book was about. Thanks for giving me some background. Now I know I'll have to pick this book up sometime in the future.

Nikola said...

Hey Jennifer! The Eight is absolutely amazing. I also understand why you lacked interest, but it is one of those books that cannot be retold in a satisfactory manner without giving away too much, as most of it just needs to be experienced.