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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The small print and the number of pages in this novel promises ample time in your reading chair.  So be sure to have lots of time to kill to thoroughly enjoy this one.

Author :  Susanna Clarke

Published Date : August 1, 2006

Publisher: Tor Books

ISBN-10: 0765356155

ISBN-13: 978-0765356154

Pages :   1,024

Synopsis :

Susanna Clarke writes of an alternate England, a place rich in history of magic and folklore.

It is the beginning of the 19th century in England, a time when magic has been relegated to pages of esoteric books,  studied by only certain gentlemen with a passion for magical theory.  It has been centuries since magicians had wielded any real power or communed with fairy folk so that magic in England has been presumed lost forever or simply non-existent.

At the height of the Napoleonic war,  Mr. Norrell, a reclusive pedantic magician, one of the only practical or practicing magicians in England, suddenly comes out of his solitary society with the goal of restoring magic in England, in his own terms.  So he applies to help the government combat Napoleon Buonaparte.  His magical talents immediately catapult him to celebrity status.  Soon however, a younger and more adventurous magician,  sort of a more freewheeling one in the person of Jonathan Strange, emerges to aid Mr. Norrell in the war.  Owing to the Mr. Norrell’s age and scholarship (he owns almost all the books of magic that can be had), Strange becomes his pupil.  Together, they become England’s most celebrated and only recognized magicians.

Their contradictory personalities and philosophies, however, guarantee a building scenario toward a clash which inevitably brings about Strange’s estrangement from his former mentor.  This division between England’s two foremost magicians lead to a cataclysmic strife in fulfillment of a prophecy for both England and the world of the fairy.

The Review:

This book, a gift from my aunt, had been sitting in my shelf for more than a year now.  Its simple cover and ordinary title just didn’t cry out to be read so that the book was often bypassed in favor of those with more interesting colors and come-ons.

Little did I know…these nondescript book covers hold pages of a marvelous literary gem that outshines many in my library.  This book is a rare delight, a captivating original for which I can find no equal.

The New York Post says of this work :  “…think Harry Potter sprinkled with the dust of Tolkien and Alasdair Gray…”    I disagree.  It is a far cry from J.K. Rowling’s and Tolkien’s work.  This book stands on its own merits and can perhaps have that exceptional position of having no other work in its genre that can be compared to it.

The book is a blend of history and fantasy, the most part being that of fantasy.  However, the reader is never sure where fiction ends and fact begins (are there even any facts?) when the author starts footnoting a word, a title, or a group of  sentences.  The footnotes, fictitious or otherwise, often refer to dated publications.  There are way over a hundred of these footnotes which pepper the entire book.  The footnotes themselves are interesting pieces of asides, ranging as short as as a one-liner to as long as a little story in itself, spanning two pages.  Susanna Clarke  used meticulous footnoting as a brilliant strategy to lend her book a conviction of credibility.

The language of writing is reminiscent of those of the nineteenth century.  Take a peek into a Jane Austen novel and you’ll know what I mean.  The style is formal and elegant yet wonderfully precise so that it showcases the author’s sharp dry wit and her command of vivid description.

“The door opened to reveal a tall, broad fellow of thirty or forty.  His face was round, white, pockmarked and bedabbled with sweat like a Chesire cheese.  All in all he bore a striking resemblance to the man in the moon who is reputed to be made of cheese.  He had shaved himself with no very high degree of skill and here and there on his white face two or three coarse black hairs appeared–rather as if a family of flies had drowned in the milk before the cheese was made and their legs were poking out of it…”

One can be enraptured by this old-fashioned intelligent writing style.  As one so enamored, I felt like I were in a feather cloud of words with all these pretty phrases falling delicately about me.   Susanna Clarke writes very consistently in this manner and even uses archaic spelling in keeping with her language.   For example, she uses “chuse” for choose, “shew” for show, “scissars” for scissors.

This is Susanna Clarke’s debut novel and it speaks for the author’s superb writing talent.  Her deadpan humor can fairly surprise a chuckle from you while her orchestrated sudden mood turns can illicit that gasp of incredulity.  At times, the narrative may sound indifferent and haughty and then dark and sinister in an instant.  How Clarke plays with her words is a marvel to witness;  and with this, she draws her characters and events so well as to leave one wanting more despite the book’s thousand pages.

To Read Or Not To Read?:

All this is not to say, however, that this book is for everyone.  The writing language may not appeal to many, the thousand or so pages may prove to be daunting,  and the footnoting may leave a tedious aftertaste with some readers.    To enjoy it, one must not mind reading a very long fantastical story written in old-fashioned English.  Rather, the reader must savor its literary style  and allow himself to be transported into its world to really appreciate this book.   For those who don’t mind these caveats,  the joy of immersing in a work of quality and originality will be reward enough.

In A Nutshell:

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell deserves the heaps of glowing reviews,  and its Hugo and World Fantasy awards.  It is a phenomenal masterpiece  which seamlessly embodies social comedy, fantasy, history, Gothic horror, and a teeny tiny sprinkling of poignant romance.  A wonderful, wonderful book best enjoyed when savored, this  novel of high fantasy has surely earned an honored place in my shelf.

My Mark :  Excellent; Superior

Author :  Ken Follet

First Release (Hardcover edition) :  Sept. 7, 1989

Paperback Edition :  1990

Publisher :  New American Library

Pages  :  983

I have read “Pillars of the Earth” a long time ago and have counted this as one of my all-time faves.   An epic masterpiece by Ken Follet, this book  is a total departure from his usual spy and action thrillers.   Instead, this is a hauntingly beautiful historical novel that shows Follet’s skill and maturity in his writing.

Binary Primate does a good review of this novel.  And so does 2nd Monday Dogs.  Please do check them out.

Incidentally, “Pillars of the Earth” has been adapted into a board game!  I learned it from this post by FootNotes.  This book is that good!

My Mark :  Excellent

This month, I’ll be reviewing its sequel “World Without End“.  I hope it’s as good as this one.