The Eight by Katherine Neville

This review doesn’t contain any spoilers… just a brief summary.

“The Eight”, a thriller novel, was written in 1988. Essentially, it is a story that intertwines two adventures and female protagonists who are on a quest centuries apart. Central to this quest is an exquisitely hand crafted chess set: The Monglane Service. When all the pieces are combined, this chess set holds a formula, which gives its bearer the strength to do good or extreme evil. In the wrong hands, the formula can easily wreck havoc. The number “8” holds a significant part of the key.

Mirelle, a French nun, living in the 1700’s is instructed to scatter the pieces around the globe while Catherine, a tech consultant in NY living in the 1970’s is on a quest to find them. The goal: To destroy the chess set before more blood is shed due to the fight over its possession.

In this novel, Katherine Neville intertwines the adventure to the chess set itself, where each character becomes a chess piece in the larger ‘Game’. She also creates a plot in which many historical figures, from scientists to artists to politicians and philosophers are all knowledgeable and very much involved in the quest to locate and decipher the secret behind the Monglane Service. Only, I think this becomes a bit too much, since it seems quite random. Mirelle keeps bumping in to these historical figures only to discover that they know about the possible existence of the chess pieces… and the story continues. There doesn’t really seem to be a need for all these arbitrary characters.

In all honesty, it was a bit difficult to get through this book… but I did. The action scenes were far too short and far between up until I got toward the last quarter of the book where it was quite packed with action.

I’ve read from various sources that this book has been compared to novels like “The Da Vinci Code” and I think that is a bit of a stretch. I’ve read “The Da Vinci Code” twice and wouldn’t mind reading it again, while I would not think about picking this read up a second time. Not only because of my rant (see below) but it was also quite slow moving when the action died down.

I may be a bit bias when it comes to this read too, due to all the demeaning, negative cultural references which were very unnecessary when it came to the progress of the story itself and (in my opinion) not very relevant to character development either. It was very unnerving to continuously read lines such as:

“run by  a bunch of people who don’t know how to dig a whole in the ground?” (referring to Arabs)

Or

“Taking a glance at the Ku Klux Klan around me…’ (referring to the traditional white clothing that are worn by some Arab men that really have no resemblance to the garments worn by such a hateful group other than the colour) – This particular remark is SO wrong on FAR too many levels it makes my blood boil!

Or

While asking for directions the protagonist decides that the Arabs she asked were “drug-induced no doubt” when there really was no reason to insinuate drug use in the text – seriously?!

And other quotes I can’t seem to find right now.

Sure everyone is entitled to their own opinions. And this book was written in the 80’s… that’s fine. I may even understand if these remarks were to create a base of what was to come in terms of the character’s involvement in the story. But really, the character who did most of the trash talk was bad news whether or not he decided to run the Arab race through the dirt.

I’ll be very honest… being an Arab and having been raised in an Arabic country for most of my youth, it’s only human to resent such random comments. I am very welcoming of everyone around me and have been raised to celebrate our differences. Therefore, I am very unappreciative of random comments that emphasize ethnic gaps rather than human commonality regardless of who is being attacked. Yes, we are all different, but that doesn’t mean we need to ridicule in order to feel ‘safe’ and ‘superior’… how about understanding for a change?

I would usually just stop reading a book once I’ve come across one too many remarks. However, I think I kept reading this time because I hadn’t actually purchased the book. I had borrowed it from the library. If I had actually bought it, then the idea of spending money on such a read would have bothered me and the chances of finishing it cover to cover would have been slim to none.

Please excuse my rant. I realize this has become a bit personal after touching upon the above issue, but it couldn’t be helped.

Needless to say… I wouldn’t rank this read too highly.

On to my next book!

Advertisements