Top positive review
Chess-Themed, Female-Led, Fast-Moving Adventure Fantasy from the French Revolution to the Present
on October 18, 2008
The Eight is a one-of-a-kind novel. I've never read a book quite like it for drawing on so many genres and interestingly using so many references to history, the arts, culture, geography, mysticism, and religion. It's like watching a more culturally connected version of The Amazing Race television program.
At the same time, the new story combinations mostly work quite well. The queen is the most powerful chess piece, and it makes sense that women should dominate a novel about chess. So there's an integrity to the new mosaic that lends the plot an inner strength.
The book alternates between two story lines with different leading heroines, Mireille de Remy (an apprentice nun, or novice, during the French Revolution of 1789) and Catherine (Cat) Velis (a computer whiz working for an accounting firm in Manhattan in the early 1970s). Most times, the story line hits a cliff hanger just in time to shift back to the other story line. It's a good book structure for maintaining your interest.
Both heroines are drawn into the search for missing chess pieces and board from a set that was once owned by the Emperor Charlemagne, a set which physically represents an age-old secret that conveys some sort of astonishing benefit to the person who employs the secret. Naturally, there are opposing forces looking to find the clues and to grasp the secret for their own advantage. That competition is expressed in terms of chess moves and pieces.
No one, however, will ever accuse Ms. Neville of being a stylish writer in crafting sentences. Rather, she is a writer who evokes emotion in he readers by falling back on favorite techniques of thriller, romance, and mystery novelists to make her story compelling.
She does a good job of keeping the various elements of the story in balance. For that reason, if you don't like one aspect of the story, you won't find yourself putting the book down in disgust. She'll distract you with another aspect of the story before that happens.
Ms. Neville has a prodigious imagination, and she employs it well to connect coincidences, historical figures, important world events, and facts into a new tapestry that seems for vivid for its antecedents in the real world.
Unfortunately, the book's ending isn't quite up to its premise. Ms. Neville has her characters doing things at the end that don't quite fit with the logical flow of her story. But it's only a minor disappointment in the end. The fun of getting to the end is too vivid for the reader to be ultimately disappointed in the experience.