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Review: The Fire, Katherine Neville

As a child, Alexandra Solarin’s father is shot in front of her eyes at a chess tournament in Russia.  The mysteries surrounding his death don’t begin to explain themselves until Alexandra is much older.  As an apprentice chef, she has now given up on chess, but the game hasn’t abandoned her.  Her mother, Cat Velis, throws a birthday party and invites not only Alexandra but several of her irritating neighbors, Alexandra’s aunt Lily Rad, her best friend Nokomis Key, and her last chess opponent, Vartan Azov.  The truth behind her parents’ past is revealed to Alexandra bit by bit as the next stage in the game plays itself out against elaborate backdrops with hugely prominent characters holding pivotal roles in the search for the purpose of the Montglane Service.

Unfortunately, I was not a fan of The Eight, the first book in this duology.  I knew I wasn’t going to like The Fire and I continued to put it off, but I did agree to review it, so I had to read it eventually.  Waiting did not help me to like it any better.  My biggest problem with it was that the book was very difficult to follow, particularly for me, since I don’t really like puzzles.  The story alternates between two time periods and I had some difficulty figuring out just why.  It’s hard to maintain the threads of the story across time and there seems to be little to no purpose for all the famous name dropping.  It does give background as to why the chess pieces are where they are, but I’m not sure that was entirely necessary for the story.

I already mentioned it, but I don’t like books that involve puzzles or riddles.  It’s always irritating when the characters solve a riddle and say, “Of course!” and proceed to explain the meaning behind it; I’d have never had a clue, so I was happy that they were explaining, but the entire book seemed like a huge complicated mess to me.  I dislike puzzles that are impossible for me to solve.  (This isn’t confined to books; I also dislike video games with excessive use of puzzles, although somehow straight puzzle games are fine).  I think it would have been even worse if I hadn’t read The Eight. I would not recommend starting with this book, it would be too confusing.  It’s hard to care about the characters; even Alexandra wasn’t particularly appealing and fell totally flat, which is never good with a main character.

In short, I felt like this book was a disaster for me.  I don’t like this type of book and even the historical sections didn’t appeal.  They just felt tacked on, especially with the historical characters that are included purely for name dropping, and took away from the more suspenseful plot with Alexandra and her many friends.  I have no interest in reading books of this kind.  Overall I would say that if you enjoyed The Eight or The Da Vinci Code, give this a shot.  If you didn’t, don’t.

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