Thursday, March 26

Katherine Neville: The Eight

For centuries the nuns of Montglane Abbey have protected a mystical chess set said to have belonged to Charlemagne, the pieces of which contain a code that if deciphered offers its possessor unlimited power.
With France set on an inevitable path toward revolution and a number of dangerous players seeking the mythical set and the power it can endow them with, the Abbess fears for the safety of the pieces. She removes them from their hiding place and disperses them around the world in the care of her displaced nuns.
But nothing can stay hidden forever and centuries later a young woman dragged unwittingly into the dangerous hunt for and protection of the chess pieces finds herself in possession of the key to the puzzle encoded in the chess set.
Having deduced the answer to the timeless puzzle, she must decide what to do with her newfound knowledge. She and her supporters decide against using the power only they could wield-for now.
A twist on the old grail quest theme, this story is told from both an historical perspective (beginning in 1793) and a modern-ish perspective (encompassing most of 1973).
Several things irritated me to the point of almost giving up on the story a number of times. The biggest issues I had revolved around pivotal plot points upon which the premise was based.
It is never really satisfactorily explained why the chess set must be moved in the first instance. It has remained hidden where it is for centuries-there is no substantial reason to believe that it won’t remain so. It is its removal that brings its existence out of the realm of myth and into that of reality. I am able to believe that a paranoid abbess might panic and exhume the set but I then ask myself why she doesn’t then destroy it if it is as dangerous as everyone is led to believe.
If the chess set is indestructible (and at no time is this suggested as the case) then why are the pieces sent abroad to places where it is conceivable that they will eventually be found (churches, palaces etc)? Why are the pieces not dropped into the middle of the Atlantic Ocean or tossed into an active volcano or something else that would protect humanity from them for a considerable time to come?
Another thing that is never satisfactorily explained is who limits the number of hunters to 32 and calls people into the hunt/game to replace those that die? Why is this real life chess game not over when the king dies? Continuing the hunt for the sake of it I can understand but keeping within the constraints of a game seems singularly pointless in the real world. And we are supposed to believe that this takes place in the real world.
And that’s just the plot.
Then there’s the writing itself.
Poor character development, flimsy motivation, wooden dialogue, unlikable heroine, unbelievable romantic interest and constant historical name dropping do nothing to enhance a plot built on shaky ground already. I’d give more detail as to the things I had problems with but I might risk going on for more than the 700 pages the book did.
The Eight certainly weighed heavily on the cons but I did finish it. I’m still not sure why. Obviously for all it’s faults it must have had something going for it. Though damned if I could tell you what.
If you think you can suspend disbelief for the duration, are not too fussy about plot cohesion and explanation and can put up with a lot of mediocre writing then the story is possibly worth the effort. For me it just scrapped through-but one more reference to an historical figure’s obsession with this chess set and it would have been a wall banger.-Lynn

No comments: