2001-2005


A most appropriate read for my R.I.P. IV  Challenge and a great one for my and Fall Into Reading 2009 challenge.

Author :  Elizabeth Kostova

Date of First Publication :  June, 2005 (Hardcover)

Publisher of 1st Edition :  Little, Brown and Company

This Edition’s Publication Date :  January 2006 (Paperback)

This Edition’s Publisher : Back Bay Books

ISBN:  0-316-05788-6

No. of pages : 820  (Paperback)

The Story :

A young American girl stumbles upon an unusual book in her father’s library.  Its pages are empty except for a woodcut of a menacing dragon with the title, Drakulya, on it.  Along with it is a stash of old letters written by a her father’s favorite professor, Bartholomew Rossi, who mysteriously disappeared at the time when her father was still his student.

Her discovery reveals her family’s dark and dangerous quest for the continued existence of Vlad Tepes, the Impaler, otherwise known as Dracula.  Slowly , drawn by her father’s accounts, she joins her family’s adventure of pursuing the undead through old letters and ancient texts, from libraries , aged monasteries and closed countries of Eastern Europe.

The Review :

You’ve got to be “in love at first read” with Elizabeth Kostova’s lush, vivid, elegant prose.  Her attention to detail is a constant that keeps the ambience of the book flowing, cloaking the reader with gothic creepiness that blends surprisingly well with romantic elements,  all throughout its eight hundred and so pages.  (By romantic elements I mean the sumptuous descriptions which enamor a reader to places, culture, people, etc. )  To read Kostova’s work is  to experience a story so intimately — you “see” the colorful pageantry of Byzantine culture, “taste”  delectable Turkish food, “smell” the smell of the undead, “feel” the anguish of the tortured.

If she fails to capture your interest in her first one or two hundred pages, chances are you simply cannot love this.  It’s one of those books that will either mesmerize you with its sensual vividness and alluring writing or because of these very qualities, tire you with its ponderous pace and lengthy minutiae.

For me, however, it is exactly Kostova’s way with language and her meticulous manner that are the charms of this novel.  It makes me wish I could absorb Kostova’s prose into my very pores in the hopes I would be able to write as eloquently and as gorgeously as she can.  Aside from being able to string words  so marvelously, she can switch the narrative perspective between a number of characters so effortlessly that the reader is hardly left wondering who is telling the story at certain points.

As a gothic novel, The Historian is superb.  It’s got all those dark elements, creepy atmosphere, but tempered so that it just falls short of being a horror novel.  The story moves like a slow crescendo,  building up bit by bit to a startling peak that gently tapers out toward the end. With all that, the reader is treated also to a well-researched history of Dracula, which makes reading all the more interesting.

In A Nutshell :

A horror novel, The Historian is not.  It may raise a few hairs, make your spine tingle, give you little shivers but it stops short of being truly terrifying.  It wasn’t written to be really such.  Yes, a chiller; but one laden with a lot more history and mystery than visceral terror.

This is a thick, page-laden novel .  But length becomes no object when you have totally immersed yourself in it.

Those who take to the novel quite early are more likely to appreciate this gem.  On the whole, it is worth the time.  To echo  a fellow blogger, KyusiReader, The Historian is indeed a very, very satisfying read.

My Mark :  Excellent

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I wanted a respite from the dark-themed books I had been reading for the R.I.P. IV Challenge. Something opposite these, I thought.  My eye settled on this religious fiction by Rebecca Kohn which had been  forever in my TBR pile.

Author :  Rebecca Kohn

Date of Publication : 2005

Publisher : Penguin Books (mass paperback)

ISBN-10: 0143035339

No. of pages :  384

The Story :

This is a story of how a young Jewish orphan, Esther, became Queen to one of the most powerful rulers of the ancient world, King Xerxes. But her story is unique because she goes down in Biblical history as one of those really rare heroines in the Old Testament who succeeded in saving her people from annihilation.

Hadassah, for her own survival, embraces the name Esther and becomes a closet Jew when she is abducted to serve in Xerxes’ harem as part of a crop of young virgins from which he would choose his new bride. (Xerxes had banished his beautiful but cruel wife, Queen Vashti, in a drunken pique for her refusal to appear before his party guests on his command.)

Esther comes to live in the harem, doing the best she can to get along with everyone.   She learns that in such an autocratic and hierarchical-sensitive environment,  the virtues of obedience, submissiveness,  generosity, respect of and deference to authority make life tolerable and endows her with the ability to influence others.

Upon her first presentation to the King,  Esther captivates him and in one night, makes a meteoric rise to Queen.

But her new life is threatened when Xerxes’ issues an edict calling all Jews to be annihilated, as per Haman’s, his corrupt chief advisor’s, whim. Haman is incensed that the Jew, Mordechai, the treasury official and in secret, Esther’s cousin, refuses obeisance to him, and so extends his wrath to all Jews.

Queen Esther is faced with a dangerous dilemma :   save her people by exposing her true lineage and forcing an uninvited audience with the King (an unsummoned presence before the King can earn one the death penalty) to plead for her people’s lives or keep mum about her Jewish parentage to save her own life and her position as Queen.

And so goes one of the most romantic stories in the Old Testament.

My Review :

The tale of Esther is a very powerful and moving story of courage and selflessness.  It is a tale of  a woman’s style of patriotism that necessitated giving up her life for one’s country/people.  It also has very significant religious points that reinforces the belief in (1) God’s existence;  (2) His constant vigil over His Chosen People and (3) His divine will and purpose for each person’s existence.

Rebecca Kohn  tries to capture this with by sticking quite closely to Esther’s story,  narrating it in her florid, romantic style  that makes her descriptions so rich and vibrant:

” The eunuch stopped before the door to the harem court.  On the doorjambs before me, a molded relief of the king fought a rearing lion monster with no more than a dagger in his bare hands….the eunuch rasped,…’You will live here in great comfort until your breasts sag and your sweet honeycomb shrivels…’….I looked at the eunuch , my eyes wide with terror…The lion monster on the doorjamb lunged for me.  I fled from the creature’s wide mouth and sharp claws into the harem court.”   — p.43

Her character, Esther, is a refreshingly different take on the ideal of a strong woman. Here, we see a girl who was strong without having the usual feminist aggressive, adventurous, stubborn, iron-willed character that a lot of writers favor to make their heroine so interesting.  Instead, Esther’s subservience and obedience coupled with her grace and feminine charms realistically favors her successful adaptation  to a masculinely dominated world where women’s subjugation are part of  its culture.   She succeeds without having to be obvertly defiant or wilful;  she simply does what she morally thinks is right in her own firm, quiet, patient way.

However, as a whole, the novel just didn’t quite make it to my standards for an outstanding rating.  Somehow, it just fell a little flat for reasons I cannot really define.  Perhaps, it was the ending which I felt wasn’t quite satisfactorily resolved and  rather anticlimactic at that.

In A Nutshell :

As a debut novel though, “The Gilded Chamber” is a good first effort.  I’ve taken to her writing style so that I’m not put off  from reading other novels Kohn may have churned out by now.    Moreover, for those looking for a fast read, this novel is it.   Aside from being a light read,  it’s got much more intellectual “meat” than say, a vampire or chick-lit novel;  so a good choice for that next beach read.

My Mark :  Very Good

Author :  John Dunning

Publication Date :  January 25, 2005

Publisher :  Pocket Star Books

ISBN-10: 0743476298

ISBN-13: 978-0743476294

No. of pages : 496 (Mass Market  Paperback)

The Story:

Homicide cop turned book collector and seller, Cliff  Janeway acquires a valuable book written by a famous Victorian era explorer, Richard Burton.  The book is in pristine condition and worth thousands of dollars; but,  Janeway’s pleasure is short-lived.  A ninety-year old woman shows up at his door, claiming ownership of the treasured book through her grandfather, Charles Warren, whom she  insisted to have been Burton’s companion during one of his travels.

Furthermore, she  tells  a surprised Janeway that the book  is only part of an incredible library of Burton material, all of  which had been sold unscrupulously to shady book dealers.    A few days after,  the old woman is on her deathbed and extracts a promise from  Janeway :   find the rare collection, in particular,  a priceless journal which purportedly Burton gave to her grandfather for safekeeping.

What starts out as a skeptical investigation soon becomes a serious and deadly tag with other treasure hunters.  When a friend is murdered, Janeway realizes there is something more than just treasure hunting.  A past secret is being covered up and Janeway  is now in the way.

The Review :

With “The Bookman’s Promise“, John Dunning presents us with some refreshing elements for a crime/mystery thriller. Now a book collector is a macho hero and the hullabaloo is about books — old, invaluable books written by a real live explorer, Richard Francis Burton.  Plus, the author incorporates the world of a book trader which makes for an interesting facet in this novel.

As much as Burton becomes, through Dunning’s engaging portrayal of the man,  an intriguing personality for a number of his readers, this novel still very much targets a small niche in the reading  audience.  Not many, this reviewer included, have heard of this famously irreverent explorer and so may have some difficulty in appreciating the novel in the way it deserves.  One simply cannot appreciate Burton’s idiosyncrasies or whatever the author wishes to please us with if one does not know him. Familiarity of Burton is indeed essential for the full enjoyment of this book as the core plot is rather mundane, despite the aforementioned new elements.

However, if you are familiar with Burton, you may take a different tack.  You would perhaps revel in the fictitious or factual (I wouldn’t know which) details generously written in the book and pronounce Dunning’s novel a capital one.  This is simply this reviewer’s conjecture on something she is not very sure about.

Like its hero, the prose is quite masculine.  One could immediately discern that the story was written by a man, which is nice as long as the testosterone is not overly used to include most of its characters.  However, it does, as the majority of the characters, whether male or female, exhibit a strong will and drive.

Dunning’s characters show too many strong traits as to render them sometimes irksome and distant.    For instance, Erin is a sassy lawyer who constantly takes offense at anything she deems chauvinistic.  This is okay in some situations but downright pesky in some, where, in reality,  she clearly will be in the way.  She is not a character one can empathize much with, unless one believes that someone can be constantly strong and fearless.   There seems a lot of sass in the dialogues, too, between characters which tend to be tiresome halfway through.

In A Nutshell :

The Bookman’s Promise” is neither a great novel nor a very bad one.   One major weakness is that a reader’s  unfamiliarity with Burton  may be a significant block for him seeking to enjoy this novel.  This, and possible character non-empathy could be two very detrimental factors in capturing reader interest.  Otherwise,  it could be an enjoyable read.

Having said these, I recognize that there are probably two stark opposing camps to this novel :  those who loved it (readers who understood the nuances of Burton and the book trade) and those who just couldn’t get into it (readers who don’t know a fig about them).   Sadly, I belong to the latter for the reasons stated above:  I don’t know Burton and I just couldn’t like the characters so much.

My Mark :  Mediocre

But you must read the book to know for sure.

Have an appetite for something original?   Look no further than “The Eyre Affair“.   Indulge in absurd reality to enjoy Fforde’s imaginative inventiveness and wry wit.

Author           :  Jasper Fforde

Date of Publication :  February 25, 2003

Publisher     :  Penguin

ISBN-10        : 0142001805

ISBN-13       : 978-0142001806

No. of Pages   :  384

The Story :

Fforde’s Britain is a surreal state where vampires and time travel are common realities; excursions into alternate worlds in books are possible; different versions of dodos can be had from a store; and bookworms are actual worms that feed on words.

This is the world of Thursday Next, a special operative of LiteraTec, a government agency in charge of, well, keeping everything literary, safe and intact. Thursday is a feisty, no-nonsense yet feminine literary cop who finds herself facing her greatest nemesis, Acheron Hades, the worst villain of all time.

A true villain who revels in being “differently moraled”,  Acheron is a SpecOps nightmare.  His latest caper, stealing the original Chuzzlewit manuscript and having his minion enter its literary portal to kidnap Mr. Quaverly for execution, has  Britain in an uproar, as the Dickens’ story is changed forever.

Thursday  Next must stop him as he sets his sights on his next victim,  Jane Eyre.  She must enter  Jane’s world to protect her, rid the world of Hades, and  thus preserve literature as it should be.

The Review :

Surreal yet charmingly quirky, Fforde’s novel is either a book one will really enjoy or a book a reader just cannot get into.    Fforde’s fantasy is just so different that one must like the wacky, the funny, and the outlandish to enjoy his world.

The heroine, Thursday Next, is a lovable  oxymoronic character, both vulnerable and tough.  This successful blend of opposite qualities renders her immediately endearing.  His villain, Acheron Hades,  is a unique sort whose amorality, style, and total contentment of his heinous nature makes him darkly fun and perpetually intriguing.

Fforde begins each chapter with little excerpts from writings of fictitious personalities from his world.  These  set the mood or clue the reader in on the chapter’s background— quite good devices for giving more information and rounding out the sections quite well.

To Read Or Not To Read :

It would be nice if one is more familiar with the literary works and authors Fforde liberally sprinkles references to throughout.  Unfamiliarity with them though, will not detract the reader from enjoying this humorously crafted oddball of a novel.

However, read only if you are inclined toward something really off the beaten track.   Don’t pick this up if you are annoyed, not in the mood for the surreal, or just do not fancy anything fantastical at the moment.  You may just miss Fforde’s clever prose and unusual wit (this, together with his fertile imagination defines his writing style) which requires a certain lightheartedness to appreciate it.

In A Nutshell :

The Eyre Affair”  is Jasper Fforde’s first novel, a cocktail of mystery, fantasy, suspense, murder, comedy and romance.  Its bold but successful concoction shows Fforde’s brilliant writing talent and guts in daring to push literary barriers.

My Mark :  Outstanding

Rachel & Leah” follows “Rebekah” in Card’s “Women of Genesis” series,  where the story  segues into Jacob’s  flight from Esau’s wrath over the usurpation of the birthright.  Jacob seeks refuge in his Uncle Laban’s camp where he meets Leah, Rachel, Zilpah and Bilhah.  And thus this story unfolds to center on these  four important women in the Genesis whose lives would intertwine  each other and around one man, Jacob.

 

 

Author  :  Orson Scott Card

First Publication Date :  2004

First Publisher   :  Shadow Mountain

This Edition’s Publication Date  :  November 29, 2005  (Mass Market Paperback)

This Edition’s Publisher :  Forge Books

 ISBN-10: 0765341298

 ISBN-13: 978-0765341297

No. of pages :   368

 

The Story :

Leah is the myopic eldest daughter of Rebekah’s brother, Laban.  Her acute nearsighted condition limits her participation in the normal, everyday life of  a  pastoral camp.  Leah’s greatest desire is  to know her purpose and worth.  She believes that God’s purpose for her is in the Scriptures,  God’s Words.   She reveals to Jacob her desire to study the Holy Writings.    Jacob readily teaches her to read and write in preparation for understanding the Holy Scriptures.  However her perceptual infirmity forces her to rely increasingly on her handmaid, Bilhah, who undertakes the same tasks  of reading and copying the Scriptures for posterity. In the daily reading and writing exercises, Leah becomes secretly enamored of Jacob.

Rachel, the youngest daughter of Laban, is known as the beauty of the family. It is she whom Jacob falls in love with when he spies her at the well.  He contracts with Laban for the hand of Rachel in return for his service as a bondsman for seven years.

Bilhah, Leah’s handmaid, is orphaned before she comes into Laban’s household.  She is not a slave but a free woman.  Although free in name, she still serves the family to earn her place.  Thus, Bilhah’s confused stature earns her a chip on her shoulder.  She makes a very impatient handmaid to Leah so later she is given over to Rachel instead.  She becomes adept in reading and writing, so Jacob gives her the task (enviable to Leah) of copying the Holy Scriptures.

Zilpah is born in Laban’s camp as a bondservant.  A flirt and an opportunist,  Zilpah has the ambition of bettering her life and status.  She assesses correctly that her future will hold nothing should she stay forever in Laban’s camp.  Thus, she plans to attach herself to those who can take her away from it.  An opportunity arises when she makes herself indispensable to Leah and thus, becomes her handmaid.  Also, she tells Jacob of Laban’s sons’ plot to kill him, raising her trustworthiness in Jacob’s eyes.

All four women are drawn inexorably to Jacob.  As per the Biblical story, Jacob completes his seven-year servitude to Laban and prepares to wed Rachel.  Rachel, in her seven-year “engagement” to Jacob,  had not thought much about marriage and what it truly entails.  Her ignorance sends her in a serious panic and suddenly she cannot bear to marry Jacob nor any man for that matter.  In Hebrew culture where honor and pride is paramount, Laban must think  of a way  to honor his commitment to Jacob and at the same time,  address his daughter’s emotional stress and her well-being.  What follows is exactly what happens in the Bible, but with the author’s own, very creative twist of how these historical  events happen to be so.

 

 

The Review :

In this novel, Card has to flesh out the characters of four women.  And he does this best with Leah who slowly grows in character as the book progresses.  The other three aren’t as developed but it is interesting to notice the dynamics between the four of them, with Jacob somehow drawing them together as the story progresses.

As in “Rebekah“, the author also takes an interest in his male characters and pays the central ones very good attention.  Jacob is a born leader, quiet and gentle but with a natural charisma that endears him to many.  Laban is a loving father who treasures his daughters and would do anything possible to make them happy.

For a male author, it must have been a challenge to have to draw four different female personalities and get into their psyches.  However, Card does quite a good job of it, as mirrored in this excerpt from his Rachel character who reacts with these thoughts to Jacob’s statement, “…compared to women, everything is easy..” :

“…Whatever it was that men imagined about women, they did not change their minds just because a woman disagreed.  Father was that way, and every other man Rachel had talked to in the camp.  It’s as if they thought that women were conducting a vast conspiracy to deceive men and make their lives difficult, so that anything a woman might say to simplify things had to be an attempt at deception.

If only men would listen to us, they’d find out that each one of us is different, and we’re eager to teach you how to understand us.  But I can’t tell you how to understand Leah–I don’t understand her either.  And if you did understand her, poor foolish man, you would think that you then understood all the rest of us, and you’d be hopelessly wrong.  No wonder you despair of understanding women.  The best you could ever hope for would be to understand one woman.  And that’s the goal none of you ever seems to try for.”   — pp. 198-199

Orson Scott Card likes to put his own philosophies within his characters’ dialogues and ruminations;  some make interesting food for thought.

 

 

To  Read Or Not To Read :

For those who think this is a religious book, it is not.  It is simply a fictional adaptation of a Biblical story, the framework of which is used as the plot but the richness of detail and characterization are from the author’s deep well of imagination.  What makes it equally worthy of attention is the fact that the story evolves from the perspective of women mentioned but otherwise not conferred with much importance in the Bible as the men were.  Given the limited power Hebrew women had at the time of Jacob, it is quite engaging to note how these women employ ways to circumvent male dominance to get their way.

At the end of the novel, the author notes that this book is only the first of a series on these four women and Jacob.  Card states:  “…the story has four very strong female characters who needed separate development..”  Thus, this story will perhaps be broken down into a series of books, the number of which has not been specified.  Currently, he is working on “The Wives of Israel“,  the sequel without an established release date yet as of the moment.

It has been five years since “Rachel & Leah” ‘s publication date.  If you’re willing to wait, pick up this book and be treated to a  good imaginative version of half the Biblical story.  While only half the story, the conclusion is still pretty well tied off despite its broad hint of a sequel.

 

In A Nutshell :

Although not as great as Card’s earlier “Women of Genesis” books, namely “Sarah” and “Rebekah“,  “Rachel and Leah” isn’t very far off the good writing mark either (considering it is only half or maybe even one-fourth of the whole  story).  With its solid characters and Card’s sharp insight into the female mind, the novel takes a good second place to his earlier ones in the Genesis series.

 

 

My Mark :   Very, Very Good

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With his “Women of Genesis” series, Orson Scott Card tackles the challenge of bringing ancient Biblical women  to believable life.  The author directs attention to those extraordinary women of their time, giving them prominence where the Old Testament had minimized them and bestowing on them a relevancy to readers of today.

The Author :   Orson Scott Card

Publisher: Forge Books; 1st edition (November 28, 2002)

ISBN-10: 076534128X

ISBN-13: 978-0765341280

No. of pages : 416

The Story :

Motherless at a young age, a Hebrew maiden, Rebekah,  matures early to become a beautiful, practical, intelligent, and headstrong girl with an unwavering faith in God.

As per the Biblical story,  a group of travelers spy Rebekah coming to the well.  The master among them asks for a drink, to which she readily obliges.  It is Eliezer,  a servant from the great house of Abraham who had tasked him to seek a wife for his son, Isaac, heir to the Holy Scriptures, the birthright.  Eliezer had prayed to the Lord to help point out Isaac’s would-be bride by sending him a woman who would do what was considered improper : talking to a stranger at the well; drawing water for his drink; and pouring water for his animals as well.  For Eliezer, God answers his prayers with this beautiful Hebrew maiden who does all what he had determined as signs of His choice.

Immediately, Eliezer negotiates with Bethuel, Rebekah’s father, for her hand in marriage to Isaac.  Rebekah regards the honor of being the chosen bride  for the heir of the birthright and therefore Abraham’s future daughter-in-law, as God’s will for her. Thus, she leaves her father, Bethuel, to take a coveted place in Abraham’s promised destiny of becoming the Father of Nations.

However, her awe of Abraham’s status in the eyes of the Lord quickly falls to disappointment when her headstrong and practical  personality clashes with his.  She also comes to struggle with Isaac’s low self-esteem and his tension-filled relationship with his father.  In a cultural milieu where women are subject to the will their fathers, brothers, or husband, Rebekah learns to adapt and make her way so her opinions and beliefs could be acknowledged by the men in her life.

Several years into the marriage, Rebekah’s prayers for children are answered when she conceives and gives birth to twins, Esau and Jacob.  God speaks to her through a prophecy foretelling that her second-born son, Jacob, would inherit the birthright from Isaac.  In ancient Hebrew society in which inheritances are  strictly handed  to firstborn sons, this was a gravely disturbing revelation.   As her children grow,  Esau exhibits athleticism and rashness and quickly becomes Isaac’s and Abraham’s  favorite.  Thoughtful, introspective and responsible Jacob becomes his mother’s.

All through her life, Rebekah’s character is marked by her intense faith and love of God.  Thus,  her reverance for the Scriptures  encompasses a  strong protective regard for them.   It is her belief that the heir of the Holy Scripture or birthright should be the son who is most likely to ensure its sanctity and preservation through the generations.   Esau , being a more physically oriented man, is wholly uninterested in the scrolls, while Jacob reads and studies them.   With her strong conviction of the worthiness of Jacob and her realization that the prophecy should come to pass, Rebekah contrives to fool Isaac, by now,  old and blind,  into conferring the blessing on Jacob.  She succeeds and so we have a story that segues into a story of Jacob, which is dealt with in a separate book.

The Review :

This is a lovely story of faith and fortitude against cultural odds.  The lot of women in the Old Testament is often a subservient one in a very patriarchal culture.  Women in the Bible, therefore, have mostly served as supporting roles to the Biblical male stars.  With very few exceptions like Eve,  they are often overlooked and their importance denigrated in Biblical history.  (But although Eve has a prominent role in the Genesis, it is a dark one,  that of being credited to have caused man’s downfall and his original sin.)

Orson Scott Card has successfully taken this biblical one-dimensionally drawn female character, Rebekah,  and given her a very plausible personality that explains her actions and her daring decisions, that of leaving her family and traveling miles to marry a man she has never met,  deceiving her husband and betraying her firstborn son of the birthright which by religious and cultural laws was Esau’s to inherit.   Card’s  Rebekah seems like a woman out of our century; but then, it may be because a strong woman’s nature may not be all that inherently different despite time and change.

What is astonishing, though, is Card’s depiction of two very important Genesis characters : Abraham and Isaac.  He delves into what must have been a traumatizing experience  for the sacrificial Isaac and imagines what his psyche might have been after almost being served up to God.   He creatively comes up with a realistic probability that Isaac, who had to face near death by the hand of his own father,  must have been emotionally scarred for life.  So, he  takes this premise and depicts Isaac as suffering from low self-esteem with constant craving for approval from Abraham.  His poor self image carries on to affect how he relates with his sons, Jacob and Esau,  his father,  Abraham and his wife, Rebekah. 

In Card’s story, Abraham, despite being God’s chosen one, is still subject to human frailties.  As an ordinary man, he has high regard for manliness (meaning physical prowess, brashness, fearlessness—traits of a “true man”) and thus cannot help but be disappointed in his mild-mannered, introverted, quiet heir and proud of his other son, Ishmael, who exhibits all these enviable qualities.

With all these human flaws and strengths imbued in his characters, Card relates the dynamics of relationships within this ancient Biblical family, producing a very interesting humanistic story that brings the Bible’s account into contemporary understanding and empathy.

To Read Or Not To Read :

I must commend the author for his vivid imaginations of the story behind the bland skeletal account written in the Bible.   Indeed,  his purpose  must be to influence the reader to see beyond the Biblical story and actually appreciate the trials and tribulations those Biblical people must have gone through in their love and absolute faith in the Lord, meriting their lives’ immortalization for thousands of years in the Holy Scripture.  The reader is persuaded to see Rebekah, Isaac, Abraham, Jacob, Esau, et. al. as “real people” whose actions and choices were driven by the same factors that drive many of us today.

The intense faith in God by the characters whose lives were dedicated to serving His will is palpable in the novel and is quite humbling if one compares  it to today’s degree of faith.

This novel may lead you to a much better appreciation of the Old Testament stories.   As an engaging read, this should be in your list of fruitful things to pass your time with.

My Mark :  Outstanding

Author        :  James Rollins

Date of  First Publication : April 26, 2005  (Hardcover)

Publisher    :  William Morrow


Date of  This Edition’s Publication :  May 2006

This Edition’s Publisher  :  Avon Books

ISBN-13:  978-0-06-076524-8

ISBN-10:  0-06-076524-0

No. of pages :   540


The Story :

The story opens with a crash into the year 1152.  Men of the exiled, legitimate  Pope desperately try to defend a holy relic from falling into the hands of the false pope ensconced in Rome.  They succeed.

Fast forward to the present in Cologne :  cold-blooded terrorists garbed in monk’s robes walk into a Catholic mass after the Eucharistic rites, steal the Church’s relic — the bones of the very Magi who had paid homage to the infant Christ at his birth — and leaves behind an entire congregation, dead from electrocution by Communion wafers.

The sacrilegious carnage and theft forces the Vatican to work alongside the Sigma force, an  elite unit of highly educated and specially trained soldiers for organized crime of this magnitude.  Commander Grayson Pierce , three other agents,  a caribinieri lieutenant Rachel Verona, and the Vatican’s own, Monsignor Vigor Verona, form a team to race against time and danger to solve the mystery of the Dragon Court’s deadly interest in the Magi’s bones.

The bones become the first clue which lead the team through an international hunt for clues to a treasure, far greater than anyone had ever known.  To solve the riddles, they must piece historical, religious and scientific knowledge together to unlock ancient secrets, before their adversaries gain the knowledge and purported power of the prize.

The Review :

Whoa!  What a ride!  Shock value and originality in the first few chapters make a strong start with a novel idea for mass murder:  grand scale killing of a Catholic congregation through electrocution with contaminated communion hosts.  A seemingly improbable event but as a beginning, it does grip you to stay with the book and run along with a series of marvelous historical, religious and techno tidbits which the author insists are facts, in his preface.  Such interesting details like Mithraism (an old Roman military religion that has parallels with Christian rites);  existence of the monoatomic state (m-state) of metals;  liquid body armor being developed by the military;  and the Mandylion (the purported true burial shroud of Christ that predates the Shroud of Turin) to name a few,  are dropped like crumbs on a trail for me, the reader, to eagerly lap up and broaden my knowledge on many esoteric matters,  after the story.

In fact,  the book is chock-full of trivia.  The bulging amount is quite distracting and adds more complexity to an already complicated mystery.  On occasion,  I’d wonder how matters came to be from Points A to C.  My attention probably wandered on some detail at point B.  But then, Rollins’ way of incorporating all these factual details keeps one riveted enough to stay on their reading course.

The book is highly driven like one on speed.  The author loves big bangs and surprises and uses these often;  so expect lots of jarring moments from beginning to end.  The hunt’s conclusion, though, seems both rather outrageous and a tad anti-climactic; but since this is escapism, it might do you well to just ride along.

To Read Or Not To Read?

Packing a lot of action, this book may be a good choice to pass the time. Score another for it if you do like books that inform as well as entertain. This is my first Rollins book and it just whetted my appetite for more. It’s quite a rollicking good read, one of those that holds up its end well against books of its type — hunt for ancient artifact adventure / mystery kind of novel.

Oh, there is a bit of romance involved. A weak injection by the author to…? …add more spice?…humanize the lead characters…?… touch on as much elements as he can?…whatever. Although this may annoy some , it doesn’t detract much from the excitement which this book is about.

In A Nutshell :

Map of Bones is quite the speedy suspense slash thriller slash adventure slash mystery it should be, melding the elements of history, religion, and technology, a genre mix that surely must be a James Rollins’ signature.

My Mark : Very Good

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