The Fire

( 65 )

Overview

"2003, Colorado: Alexandra Solarin is summoned home to her family's ancestral Rocky Mountain hideaway for her mother's birthday. Thirty years ago, her parents, Cat Velis and Alexander Solarin, believed that they had scattered the pieces of the Montglane Service around the world, burying with them the secrets of the power that comes with possessing it. But Alexandra arrives to find that her mother is missing and that a series of strategically placed clues, followed swiftly by the unexpected arrival of a mysterious assortment of houseguests,
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Overview

"2003, Colorado: Alexandra Solarin is summoned home to her family's ancestral Rocky Mountain hideaway for her mother's birthday. Thirty years ago, her parents, Cat Velis and Alexander Solarin, believed that they had scattered the pieces of the Montglane Service around the world, burying with them the secrets of the power that comes with possessing it. But Alexandra arrives to find that her mother is missing and that a series of strategically placed clues, followed swiftly by the unexpected arrival of a mysterious assortment of houseguests, indicates that something sinister is afoot." "When she inadvertently discovers from her aunt, the chess grandmaster Lily Rad, that the most powerful piece of Charlemagne's service has suddenly resurfaced and the Game has begun again, Alexandra is swept into a journey that takes her from Colorado to the Russian wilderness and at last into the heart of her own hometown: Washington D.C." "1822, Albania: Thirty years after the French Revolution, when the chess service was unearthed, all of Europe hovers on the brink of the War of Greek Independence. Ali Pasha, the most powerful ruler in the Ottoman Empire, has angered the sultan and is about to be attacked by Turkish forces. Now he sends the only person he can rely upon - his young daughter, Haidee - on a dangerous mission to smuggle a valuable relic out of Albania, through the mountains and over the sea, to the hands of the one man who might be able to save it." Haidee's journey from Albania to Morocco to Rome to Greece, and into the very heart of the Game, will result in revelations about the powerful chess set and its history that will lead at last to the spot where the service was first createdmore than one thousand years before: Baghdad.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Neville's anticipated follow-up to her debut novel, The Eight, finds protagonist Alexandra Solarin trying to decipher a series of clues surrounding her mother's sudden disappearance. Like its predecessor, The Fire is infused with historical references and ties to the present, sending readers back to the days of the Ottoman Empire to help unravel the mystery. Susan Denaker offers an entertaining, almost theatrical reading. Her characters are rich and well crafted, always surprising and refreshing when the audience least expects it. A fun and ultimately thrilling listen. A Random House hardcover (Reviews, Aug. 4). (Oct.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Dan Brown stands on the shoulders of a giant. Twenty years have passed since Neville (A Calculated Risk; The Magic Circle) transfixed readers with her debut novel, The Eight. No one knew how to categorize it; part historical novel, part contemporary thriller, the book became a cult favorite. Patience is a virtue, and Neville's fans are a virtuous lot. Here is their reward. Set 30 years after the events of The Eight, the game that we thought ended has resumed with new players (although familiar characters figure into the plot in some way), and it returns as dangerous as ever. For those who haven't read The Eight, there are some innovative plot recap devices, but fans may want to treat themselves to a delectable reread first. Neville deftly employs time-shifting storytelling and casts historical figures in her story with such dexterity that you are sure all these people must really have known one other. Ingenious puzzles, enthralling historical ambience, and masterful plot twists abound. More please! Highly recommended for all popular fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ6/1/08.]
—Laura A.B. Cifelli

Kirkus Reviews
Belated sequel to The Eight (1988), Neville's sprawling mystical-thriller debut novel about a quest to locate and decipher the secrets encrypted in an antique bejeweled chess set. Ten years after Alexandra Solarin's father was murdered at a chess tournament in Russia-and 30 years after he and her mother, Cat Velis, managed to scatter and hide the pieces of the Montglane Service to prevent their falling into the hands of evildoers-former chess prodigy Alexandra receives a summons to return to her family's vast Colorado estate to celebrate her mother's birthday. But Alexandra arrives to an empty house: no departing footprints in the snow, a fire burning mysteriously in the fireplace and no sign of her mother. However, a series of cryptic clues, together with a steady stream of visitors-including Alexandra's chess-whiz aunt Lily Rad, Russian chess grandmaster Vartan Azov, Alexandra's friend Nokomis Key and some insistent neighbors-soon put Alexandra on the track of a new and perilous adventure: One of the most powerful pieces of the Montglane Service, the black queen, has suddenly reappeared, threatening doom and destruction. In the Turkish-occupied Albania of 1822, meanwhile, young Haidee must seek out her true father, the romantic poet and Greek freedom fighter George Gordon, better known as Lord Byron. Along the way we learn why the Montglane Service is so dangerous and important: It was crafted in the eighth century by the greatest of Sufi alchemists, al-Jabir ibn Hayyan, who encoded within its structure the secrets of immortality, the transmutation of elements and what-all. Packed with the sort of bamboozling twaddle that should come with a warning: Belief in Alchemy Required. Still,fans of The Eight, Dan Brown, etc., will jump right in.
From the Publisher
Praise for Katherine Neville’s The Eight

“A big, rich, two-tiered confection of a novel . . . a rousing, amusing game.”
–San Francisco Chronicle

“A fascinating piece of entertainment . . . few will find it resistible.”
–Los Angeles Times Book Review

“Readers thrilled by The Da Vinci Code will relish the multilayered secrets of The Eight.”
–Matthew Pearl, author of The Dante Club

“With an alchemical skill, Neville blends a modern romance, historical fiction, and a medieval mystery . . . and comes up with gold.”
–People

“A feminist answer to Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
–The Washington Post Book World

“Impossible to put down.”
–Boston Herald

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345500687
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/25/2009
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 306,607
  • Product dimensions: 5.24 (w) x 8.04 (h) x 0.99 (d)

Meet the Author

Katherine Neville is the author of The Eight, The Magic Circle (a USA Today bestseller), and A Calculated Risk (a New York Times Notable Book). The Eight has been translated into more than thirty languages. In a national poll in Spain by the noted journal El País, The Eight was voted one of the top ten books of all time. Neville lives in Virginia and Washington, D.C.

www.katherineneville.com

From the Hardcover edition.

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Read an Excerpt

The Fire A Novel
By Katherine Neville
Ballantine Books Copyright © 2008 Katherine Neville
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780345500670


THE BLACK LAND

Wyrd oft nereth unfaegne eorl, ponne his ellen deah.
(Unless he is already doomed, fortune is apt to favor the man who keeps his nerve.)
–Beowulf

Mesa Verde, Colorado Spring 2003

BEFORE I’D EVEN REACHED THE HOUSE, I KNEW SOMETHING was wrong. Very wrong. Even though on the surface, it all seemed picture-perfect.

The steep, sweeping curve of drive was blanketed deep in snow and lined with stately rows of towering Colorado blue spruce. Their snow-covered branches sparkled like rose quartz in the early morning light. Atop the hill, where the driveway flattened and spread out for parking, I pulled up my rented Land Rover in front of the lodge.

A lazy curl of blue-gray smoke rose from the moss rock chimney that formed the center of the building. The rich scent of pine smoke pervaded the air, which meant that–although I might not be warmly welcomed after all this time–at least I was expected.

To confirm this, I saw that my mother’s truck and jeep were both sitting side-by-side in the former horse stable at the edge of the parking area. I did find it odd, though, that the drive had not yet been plowed and there were no tracks. If I were expected, wouldn’t someone have cleared a path?

Now that I was here at last, in the only place I’d ever called home, you would think I could finally relax. But Icouldn’t shake the sense that something was wrong.

Our family lodge had been built at about this same period in the prior century, by neighboring tribes, for my great-great-grandmother, a pioneering mountain lass. Constructed of hand-hewn rock and massive tree trunks chinked together, it was a huge log cabin that was shaped like an octagon–patterned after a hogan or sweat lodge–with many-paned windows facing in each cardinal direction, like a vast, architectural compass rose.

Each female descendant had lived here at one time or another, including my mother and me. . . . So what was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I ever come here without this sense of impending doom? I knew why, of course. And so did my mother. It was the thing we never spoke about. That’s why–when I had finally left home for good–my mother understood. She’d never insisted, like other mothers, that I come back for familial visits.

That is, not until today.

But then, my presence today hadn’t exactly been by invitation–it was more of a summons, a cryptic message that Mother had left on my home phone back in Washington D.C., when she knew very well I’d be off at work.

She was inviting me, she said, to her birthday party.

And that, of course, was a big part of the problem.

You see, my mother didn’t have birthdays. She’d never had birthdays.

I don’t mean she was concerned about her youth or appearance or wished to lie about her age–in fact, she looked more youthful each year.

But the strange truth was, she didn’t want anyone outside of our family even to know when her birthday was.

This secrecy, combined with a few other idiosyncracies–like the fact that she’d been in hermetic retreat up on top of this mountain for the past ten years, ever since . . . the thing we never spoke about–all went far to explain why there were those who may have perceived my mother, Catherine Velis, as a pretty eccentric duck.

The other part of my current problem was that I hadn’t been able to contact my mother for an explanation of her sudden revelation. She’d answered neither her phone nor the messages I’d left for her, here at the lodge. The alternate number she’d given me was clearly not right–it was missing some final digits.

With my first true inkling that something was really wrong, I’d taken a few days off work, bought a ticket, caught the last flight into Cortez, Colorado, in a blizzard, and rented the last four-wheel-drive vehicle in the airport lot.

Now I left the engine running as I sat here for a moment, letting my eyes graze over the breathtaking panoramic view. I hadn’t been home in more than four years. And each time I saw it afresh, it smacked the wind out of me.

I got out of the Rover in knee-deep snow and let the engine run.

From here on the mountaintop, fourteen thousand feet atop the Colorado Plateau, I could see the vast, billowing sea of three-mile-high mountain peaks, licked by the rosy morning light. On a clear day like this, I could see all the way to Mount Hesperus–which the Diné call Dibé Nitsaa: Black Mountain. One of the four sacred mountains created by First Man and First Woman.

Together with Sisnaajinii, white mountain (Mt. Blanca) in the east; Tsoodzil, blue mountain (Mt. Taylor) in the south, and Dook’o’osliid, yellow mountain (San Francisco Peaks) in the west, these four marked out the four corners of Dinétah–“Home of the Diné,” as the Navajo call themselves.

And they pointed as well to the high plateau I was standing on: Four Corners, the only place in the U.S. where four states–Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona–come together at right angles to form a cross.

Long before anyone ever thought to draw dotted lines on a map, this land was sacred to everyone who ever walked across it. If my mother was going to have her first-ever birthday party in the nearly twenty-two years I had known her, I could understand why she wanted to have it here. Regardless of how many years she had lived abroad or away, like all the women in our family she was part of this land.

For some reason, I knew that this connection with the land was somehow important. I knew that was why she had left a message strange enough to bring me to this spot.

And I knew something else, even if no one else did. I knew why she’d insisted I come here today. For today–April fourth–actually was my mother, Cat Velis’s, birthday.

I YANKED MY KEYS FROM THE IGNITION, GRABBED MY hastily packed duffle bag from the passenger seat, and plowed my way through the snow to our hundred-yearold front doors. These huge doors–two massive slabs of heart pine ten feet high, cut from ancient trees–were carved in bas-relief with two animals that seemed to be coming right at you. On the left, a golden eagle soared straight at your face. And from the right door burst an angry, upright female bear.

Despite the weathering of these carvings, they were pretty realistic–with glass eyes and real talons and claws. The early twentieth century had loved clever inventions, and this one was a doozy: If you pulled the bear’s paw, her jaw dropped open to reveal very real and frightening teeth. If you had the nerve to stick your hand into her mouth, you could twist the old-fashioned door chime, to alert those within.

I did both and waited. But even after a few moments, there was no response. Someone must have been inside–the chimney was active. And I knew from practice that stoking that fire pit took hours of tending and a Herculean effort to haul the wood. But with our hearth, which was capable of receiving a log of fifty caliper inches, a fire could have been laid days ago and still be burning.

My situation suddenly dawned on me: Having flown and driven a few thousand miles, I was standing in the snow on top of a mountain, trying to get access to my own house, desperate to know if anyone was inside. But I didn’t have a key.

My alternative–wading through acres of deep snow to peep through a window–seemed a poor idea. What would I do if I got wetter than I already was and still couldn’t get inside? What if I got inside and no one was there? There were no car tracks, ski tracks–even deer tracks–anywhere near the house.

So I did the only intelligent thing I could think of: I yanked my cell phone out of my pocket and dialed Mother’s number, right here at the lodge. I was relieved when her message machine picked up after six rings, thinking she might have left some clue as to her whereabouts. But when her recorded voice came on, my heart sank: “I can be reached at . . . ” and she rattled off the same number she’d left on my D.C. phone–still missing the very last digits! I stood before the door, wet and cold, and fuming with confusion and frustration. Where did one go from here?

And then I remembered the game.

My favorite uncle, Slava, was famed throughout the world as the noted technocrat and author Ladislaus Nim. He’d been my best friend in my childhood, and though I hadn’t seen him in years, I felt he still was. Slava hated telephones. He vowed he would never have one in his house. Telephones, no–but Uncle Slava loved puzzles. He’d written several books on the topic. Through my childhood, if anyone received a message from Slava with a phone number where you could reach him, they always knew it wasn’t real–it must be some kind of encrypted message.

That was his delight.

It seemed unlikely, though, that my mother would use such a technique to communicate with me. For one thing, she wasn’t even good at deciphering such messages herself, and she couldn’t invent a puzzle if her life depended upon it.

More unlikely still, was the idea that Slava had created a message for her. As far as I knew, she hadn’t talked to my uncle in years, not since . . . the thing we never spoke about.

Yet I was sure, somehow, that this was a message.

I jumped back up into the Land Rover and switched on the engine. Decrypting puzzles to locate my mother sure beat all hell out of the alternatives: breaking into an abandoned house, or flying back to D.C. and never learning where she’d gone.

I called her machine again: I jotted down the phone number she’d left there, for all the world to hear. If she was in real trouble of some kind and trying to contact only me, I prayed that I would decipher it first. “I can be reached at 615-263-94 . . .” my mother’s recorded voice said.

My hand was shaking as I wrote out the numbers on a pad. I’d been provided eight numbers, rather than the ten numbers required to make a long-distance call. But as with Uncle Slava’s puzzles, I suspected this had nothing to do with phones. Here was a ten-digit code, of which the final two numbers were missing. Those two numbers themselves were my hidden message.

It took about ten minutes to figure it out–much longer than when I was running neck and neck with my crazy but wonderful uncle. If you divided the string of numbers into twos (hint: we were missing the last two digits), then you ended up with:

61-52-63-94

If you reversed those numbers, as I quickly saw, you ended up with two-digit square numbers, starting with the square of four. That is, the products of four, five, six, and seven when multiplied by themselves:
16-25-36-49
The next number in the sequence–and the missing number–was eight. So the missing last two digits of the series were the square of eight–that is, 64. In the real puzzle, of course, if you reversed the number, the answer would have been 46–but that wasn’t it.

I knew–and so did my mother–that 64 had another meaning for me. It was the number of squares on a chess board, with eight squares on each side.

In a nutshell: the thing we never talked about.

My distraught and intractable mother had refused ever to speak of the game of chess–even to permit it into her house. Since my father’s death (the other thing which we never talked about), I was forbidden ever to play the game–the only thing I’d ever known how to do, the only thing that helped me connect with the world around me. I might as well have been ordered, at the age of twelve, to become autistic.

My mother was opposed, in every way imaginable, to the idea of chess. Though I’d never been able to follow her logic–if indeed, it was logic–to my mother’s mind, chess would prove as dangerous to me as it had been to my father.

But now it seemed that by bringing me here on her birthday, by leaving that cryptic phrase with its encrypted message, she was welcoming me back to the game.

I TIMED IT: IT TOOK ME TWENTY-SEVEN MINUTES AND– since I’d left the engine running–a gallon of hog-guzzling gas, until I figured out how to get inside.

By now, anyone with half a brain would have guessed that those two-digit numbers were also combinations on a tumbler. But there were no locks on the house. Except there was one in the barn. On a lock box. The keys to the cars were kept there.

Would I be justified in saying “Duh”?

I switched off the Rover, plowed through the snow to the barn–and voilˆ!–a few tumblers dropped, the door to the lock box opened, and the door key appeared on a chain. Back at the house, it took a moment to recall that the key was inserted into the eagle’s left claw. Then the ancient doors groaned open a crack.

I scraped my boots on the rusty old fireplace grille we kept beside the entrance, shoved open the heavy front doors of the lodge, and slammed them shut behind me, causing a flurry of sparkling snowflakes to sift through the slanted morning light.

Within the dim interior of the mud room–an entry not much bigger than a confessional that kept the cold winds out–I kicked off my dripping boots and pulled on a pair of the fuzzy sheepskin aprŽs-ski booties that always sat there atop our frozen-food locker. When I’d hung up my parka, I opened the inner doors and stepped into the vast octagon, warmed by the giant log that was burning in the central hearth.

The octagon was a room perhaps one hundred feet across and thirty feet high. The fire pit took up the center, with a copper hood above it, hung with pots, rising to the moss stone chimney that pulled smoke upward to the sky. It was like an enormous teepee, except for the massive furniture scattered everywhere. My mother had always been averse to things one might actually sit on, but there was our ebony parlor grand piano, a sideboard, an assortment of desks, library tables, and revolving bookcases, and a billiard table that no one ever played on.

The upper floor was an octagonal balcony that overhung the room. There were small chambers there where people could sleep and even, sometimes, bathe.

Molten light poured through the lower windows at every side, glittering across the dust that draped the mahogany. From the ceiling skylights, rosy morning light sifted down, picking out the features of the colorfully painted heads of animal totems that were carved into the enormous beams supporting the balcony: bear, wolf, eagle, stag, buffalo, goat, cougar, ram. From their lofty perspective, nearly twenty feet high, they seemed to be floating timelessly in space. Everything seemed to be frozen in time. The only sound was the occasional cracking of fire from the log.

I walked around the perimeter, from one window to another, looking out at the snow: There was not one print to be seen, anywhere. I went up the spiral stairs to the balcony and checked each partitioned sleeping space. Not the slightest trace.

But how had she done it?

It appeared that my mother, Cat Velis, had vanished into thin air.

A jarring noise broke the silence: A telephone was ringing. I dashed down the steep, twisted stair and snatched the receiver from atop mother’s British campaign desk, just before the machine kicked in.

“Good Lord, what were you thinking, darling, choosing this god forsaken spot?” came the throaty voice, tinted with a bit of British accent, of a woman I knew only too well. “And for that matter, where on earth are you? We’ve been driving around this wilderness for what seems like days!” There was a pause, when she seemed to be speaking to someone else.

“Aunt Lily?” I said.

For it was surely she–my aunt, Lily Rad–my first chess mentor, and still one of the top women grandmasters in the game. Once, she’d been my mother’s best friend, though they hadn’t touched base in years. But what was she doing calling here now? And driving around–what on earth did that mean?

“Alexandra?” said Lily, confused. “I thought I was phoning your mother. What are you doing there? I thought you and she weren’t . . . on the best of terms.”

“We’ve reconciled,” I said hastily, not wanting to open that can of worms again. “But mother doesn’t seem to be here right now. And where exactly are you?”

“She’s not there?! You can’t be serious,” Lily said, fuming. “I’ve come all the way from London just to see her. She insisted! Something about a birthday party– God knows what that means. As for where I am right now, it is anyone’s guess! The satellite positioning system on my automobile keeps insisting that I’m in Purgatory–and I’m fully able to accept that judgment. We haven’t seen anything resembling civilization for hours.”

“You’re here? In Purgatory?” I said. “That’s a ski area; it’s less than an hour from here.” But it seemed crazy: The top female British-American chess champion came from London to Purgatory, Colorado, to attend a birthday party? “When did mother invite you?”

“It wasn’t so much an invitation as an edict,” Lily admitted. “She left the news on my cell phone, with no means to reply.” There was a pause, then Lily added, “I adore your mother–you know that, Alexandra. But I could never accept–”

“Neither could I,” I agreed. “Let’s drop it. So how did you know how to find her?”

“I didn’t! Good God, I still don’t! My car’s by the road someplace near a town that promotes itself as the next stop from Hell; there’s no edible food; my driver refuses to budge without being given a pint of vodka; my dog has disappeared into some . . . dune of snow, chasing some local rodent . . . and–I might add–I have had more trouble locating your mother by phone, this past week, than the Mossad had in tracking down Doctor Mengele in South America!”

She was hyperventillating. I considered it was time to intervene.

“It’s okay, Aunt Lily,” I told her. “We’ll get you here. As for food, you know I can whip something up. There’s always plenty of tinned food here and vodka for your driver–we can put him up, too, if you like. I’m too far away; it would take me too long to reach you. But if you’ll give me your satellite coordinates, I’ve a friend quite near there who can escort you here to the lodge.”

“Whomever he may be, bless him,” said my aunt Lily, not a person normally given to gratitude.

“It’s a she,” I said. “And her name is Key. She’ll be there in half an hour.” I took down Lily’s cell phone number and left a message at the airstrip to arrange for Key to pick her up. Key had been my best friend since childhood, but she’d be more than surprised to learn that I’d turned up here with no warning after all this time.

As I hung up the phone, I saw something across the room that I hadn’t noticed before. The top of Mother’s parlor grand piano–which was always raised, in case she got the urge to play–had been lowered flat. Atop was a piece of paper with a round, dark weight set upon it. I went over to look, and I felt the blood flooding into my brain.

The paperweight was overt enough: Propped on a metal key ring, to keep it from rolling, was the eight ball from our billiard table. The note itself was definitely from my mother; the code was so simplistic that no one else could have invented it. I saw how hard she’d worked to communicate cryptically, clearly with no help.

The note, in large print, read:

–Washington
–Luxury Car
–Virgin Isles
–Elvis Lives
–As Above So Below

The Elvis part was simple: My mother’s last name– Velis–was spelled two different ways to show it was from her. As if I needed that helpful clue. The rest was a lot more upsetting. And not because of the code.

Washington was, of course, “DC”; Luxury Car was “LX”; Virgin Isles was “VI.” Together, in Roman numerals (as they clearly were), their numeric value was:

D = 500
C = 100
L = 50
X = 10
V = 5
I = 1

Tally them up, and it’s 666–the Number of the Beast from the apocalypse.

I wasn’t worried about that Beast–we had plenty of those protecting us, scattered about the lodge as our animal totems. But for the first time, I was truly worried about my mother. Why had she used this hackneyed pseudomillennial ruse to grab my attention? What about the paperweight on top–another standard bunkum, “Behind the eight ball”–what on earth did that mean?

And what should one make of that old alchemical drivel, “As Above, So Below”?

Then, of course, I got it. I removed the eight ball and the bit of paper, setting them on the keyboard music stand, and I opened the piano. Before I could set the strut in place, I nearly dropped the lid.

There, inside the hollow body of the instrument, I saw something I thought I would never, ever see again inside my mother’s house as long as she lived.

A chess set.

Not just a chess set–but a chess set with a game set up, a game that was partially in play. There were pieces that had been removed from the field of play and set out upon the keyboard strings at either side–black or white.

The first thing I noticed was that the Black Queen was missing. I glanced over at the billiard table–good heavens, Mother, really!–and saw that the missing queen had been placed in the rack where the eight ball was supposed to be.

It was something like being drawn into a vortex. I began to feel the game in play. Good Lord, how I had missed this. How had I been able to leave it behind? It was nothing like a drug at all, as people sometimes said. It was an infusion of life.

I forgot the pieces that were off the board or behind the eight ball; I could reconstruct everything from the patterns that were still there. For several long moments, I forgot my missing mother, my aunt Lily lost in Purgatory with her chauffeur, her dog, and her car. I forgot what I’d sacrificed–what my life had become against my will. I forgot everything except the game before me–the game cached away like a dark secret, in the belly of that piano.

But as I reconstructed the moves, dawn arose through the high glass windows–just as a sobering realization dawned within my mind. I could not stop the horror of this game. How could I stop it, when I had replayed it over and over again in my mind, these past ten years?

For I knew this game quite well.

It was the game that had killed my father.

Continues...

Excerpted from The Fire by Katherine Neville Copyright © 2008 by Katherine Neville. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 65 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 9, 2009

    The whole book is a McGuffin

    **Spoilers**

    I read The Eight and thought it was a fine read.

    When I saw The Fire in the store, and I thought this would be about as good a read. It isn't.

    It follows a similar structure in the sense that one part is told in the present, and the other in the past. The story of the past has almost no impact on the story at all. There are so many irrelevant characters introduced that they are distracting and take up your memory and brainpower trying to figure out their purpose. Name dropping is abundant. Characters like Byron, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Dumas are introduced, but are meaningless. I guess Neville thought this would be cool, but it has no bearing.

    The same is true of the present. We are led down blind alley after blind alley that we become totally lost. Characters are constantly told that they are this chess piece, but later, are another piece, and later, even another.

    Along with irrelevant characters are irrelevant plots. Hints are constantly dropped about how important fire is. It has something to do with alchemy; the main character is going to be a catalyst for something; she's going to have to use fire for something. It is obvious that the main character is somehow connected to fire. It is the title of the damn book. Half the quotes that begin the chapters are fire related. What does this have to do with anything? Zip.

    Characters, and therefore the story, takes tremendous leaps in logic about who knows what and why who is doing what.

    In the end, tons of stuff are not resolved. The pieces are not found; the chessboard (which we are constantly told is the key to everything) is not found; and the true climax, the choice that is supposed to face the main characters between immortality, and love, is never faced.

    There's an old saying in movies and books (it goes something like this): if you show a shotgun above a mantle in chapter one, it better be used by the end of the book. Well, in The Fire, we are showed a room full of junk, told all about the junk, and none of it is used for anything or important. The whole book is one giant McGuffin (Hitchock reference)

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 20, 2008

    Couldn't put it down!!

    The story starts with the Eight. A magnificent chess set, that once belonged to Charlemagne, is the key to unlimited power. It travels through history touching Napoleon, Catherine the Great, and many other names you will recognize. At the end of the Eight the chess set, called the Montglane Service appears safe from evil hands, but in The Fire it will resurface in frightening new ways. New players will be brought into the game and the line between black and white will become gray.... <BR/>I loved The Eight and for me The Fire scratched an itch I have been waiting to scratch for ten years. The Fire has it all romance, adventure, and history. It has brains and brawn and a funny bone to boot! It was fast-paced and surprising and the first book in a long time that I couldn't put down. I only hope that I don't have to wait ten more years for another book from Katherine Neville!

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 5, 2008

    one of the best puzzler thrillers of the year

    In Washington DC once a child chess prodigy who quit playing years ago, Alexandra Solarin lives a quiet lifestyle as a sous chef. However, her missing mom, Catherine Velis (star of THE EIGHT, a Brownian like thriller published before the Da Vinci Code) has left her some esoteric clues that will find her.----------- Unable to not make an attempt to rescue her mother, Alex enters the Game' in which she is to seek the mythical Montglane Service chess set that allegedly contains the code for immortality. The Game is life and death across centuries and counties as time and boundaries do not exist in this ¿realm¿ whereas danger is behind each clue as death is the norm.-------------- This direct sequel to the classic late 1980s thriller THE EIGHT is as good as the original and can stand alone. The amazement re Katherine Neville¿s talent is how she keeps an incredibly fast-paced story line which includes tons of deep historical references and persona. Fans of the original saga will obviously welcome the daughter¿s gambit, but newcomers will agree THE FIRE is one of the best puzzler thrillers of the year.------------------------ Harriet Klausner

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 31, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    20 years of waiting...

    Sorry, all. I waited the twenty years just like everyone else for the sequel to "The Eight," which happens to be "The Da Vinci Code" in the 1980s, but SO much better. So when I heard that "The Fire" was coming out, a sequel to "The Eight," you bet your britches that I put myself on the pre-order list, and eagerly awaited its release. I tend to read books very quickly, especially those that are incredible... but lemme tell you, it took me forever to read because the dialogue and events were so not at the sophisticated level that "The Eight" was. I found myself hating one of the primary characters because of the over-usage of catch phrases and sayings -- annoying! What a complete sadness I felt when I finally finished the last page. And if you've never read "The Eight," then reading "The Fire," could be a stand alone book for you, but it just doesn't have any kind of passion or energy that you can really get into at all. What a disappointment.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 16, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Because it is a closure to The Eight (sort of)

    I agree with many that this is a hot mess, and Neville's amazing writing have gotten lost in the fire. Where The Eight was a tentalizing, amazing epic story, this one is a dying amber of a fire which could've been. I only finished it because of the first one. Its filled with too many characters with no depth at all. The only thing I loved was that Solarin was alive, what a relief that was! Besides that nothing kept me amazed and intrigued. Looked like it was hurriedly written. I have read the Eight atleast 25 times since the day I purchased it five years ago, and this one I couldn't wait to finish it the first time and haven't looked at it even once since than. At the time when I read The Eight, I had wished that Neville would write a sequel, and was totally floored when I found out that it was in the works, but now I wish she had just left it be.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 14, 2008

    Don't bother

    I don't often write reviews, but this book was sooo awful, I feel it's a consideration to other readers to let them know that this is not AT ALL like The Eight. The plot is erratic, the characters are superficial and you can't make head or tails out of the story. Don't waste your time reading this!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 22, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    The Fire by Katherine Neville The anticipated sequel to "E

    The Fire by Katherine Neville

    The anticipated sequel to &quot;Eight.&quot;

    Once again, Charlemagne's secret and powerful Montglane Service Chess set is the protagonist the book.

    Just like &quot;Eight, &quot; the story follows two timelines, this time it's 2003 and 1822.

    2003. Alexandra Solarin is summoned by her estranged mother to their family retreat at Four Corners, Colorado. She has not spoken to her in ten years, and out of the blue, her mother, Catherine Velis invites her to celebrate her birthday. Alexandra arrives to find that her mother is missing. A series of strategically placed clues and the arrival of a mysterious assortment of house guests lead Alexandra to conclude that The Game has started again. This is confirmed by her aunt, chess grandmaster Lilly Rad, who tells Alexandra that the black queen has resurfaced and that Alexandra is in great danger. Just like her father was assassinated 10 years prior, Taras Petrossian has been assassinated also - all because they were trying to protect the Montglane Service Chess set and its secret formula.

    Alexandra must rely on her childhood friend, Nokomis Key, and Petrossian's stepson, Ukrainian grand master Vartan Azov, to decipher a set of clues that will take them from Colorado, to the Russian wilderness and at last into the heart of her own hometown: Washington, D. C.

    1822. Ali Pasha has angered the sultan of the Ottoman Empire and is about to be attacked by The Turkish forces. He sends his young daughter, Haidée - who was really fathered by lord Byron himself - on a dangerous mission: to smuggle the black queen back to lord Byron, the only man who might be able to save it.

    Haidée's journey from Albania to Morocco to Rome, and finally to Greece will take her into the very heart of the Game. It will result in revelations about the Montglane Service Chess set and its secret formula: the elixir of life everlasting.

    Told from Alexandra's first person point of view, and from the third person point of view of the other main characters, the book has a captivating history, non stop suspense, and incredible research.

    Unlike the first installment, &quot;Eight, &quot; I found the sequel had &quot;too many sub-plots,&quot; making it hard to follow. I also thought the ending was lame. Still, it was a nice read....

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 29, 2009

    A Complex Checkerboard of Characters, Clues, and Content!

    I enjoyed the book, having read "The Eight". Now I know "the rest of the story". I found the plot to be a bit vague, but entertaining.

    A chess novice, I had some difficulty seeing the "relationships" as purported, but I DID learn a bit about the game of chess, its' history, its' followers, the "peculiar" nature of chess players, and, especially, the "politics".

    Many "twists 'n' turns" to be found. The characters were well defined and entertaining...each with a very imaginable personality. There are also snapshots of past times, historical figures, and exotic places throughout, and the "past and present" are well intertwined.

    Ms. Neville plays an intriguing, fast-paced, game...I'd recommend "The Fire" to all who enjoy chess, challenge, and a touch of "The DaVinci Code" feel.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 13, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Excellent

    I loved this book. Could not put it down. Sequals are not always as good as the originals but this book was every bit as good as The Eight. I have read everything written by Katherine Nevielle and have loved everyone of them. To bad she has only written four books. I would highly recommend this book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 9, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    The Fire is a brilliant mesh of history, science, myth, and suspense.

    Katherine Neville mastered the skill of entwining history, reality, science, and fantasy in exact proportions. "The Fire" blends factual history and myths to a point where the difference disappears, and the reader falls captured by the plot, intriguing settings, and well built ordinary and extraordinary characters. "The Fire" is a quest. Alexandra, the main character, explores her past and her relationship with her mother. Like in real life, her actions are determined not only by her own choices, but also unexpected circumstances, and more importantly, by choices made in the past by others without her knowledge or consent. "The Fire" is well written. Alexandra's quest rapidly becomes the reader's quest. Alexander Solarin (Alexandra's father) is dazzling. Cat Velis (her mother) is smart and mysterious, Lily Rad (her aunt) is a genius, very funny, and a chess Master. Chess is a recurring theme throughout the plot, but you don't need to be a chess player to enjoy it. Alexandra's family comes from "The Eight", Neville's first epic thriller, written twenty years ago. I re-read "The Eight" before reading "The Fire", just to prolong the pleasure of exploring the sequel. They are both great.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 4, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    The Fire - a true page burner

    The Fire, sequel to The Eight, is a legitimate page burner. K. Neville takes the reader on a ride that has more twists and turns than Lombard Street in San Francisco. From the majestic peaks of Colorado to the power corridors of Washington, D.C. and a race across the United States that comes to a startling conclusion in Russia. Neville's ability to combine historic fact with imaginative characters is superb and exceeded only by her unmatched ability to draw the reader directly in to one spectacular setting after another. And, of course, the chess match continues!

    Readers of The Eight will welcome the return of many familiar characters and will find more than one or two surprises. Who is the new Black Queen?
    If you have read The Eight you will not want to miss The Fire!

    For those not having already read The Eight you may want to consider doing that first. While not necessary to do so, my belief is that knowing "the players" adds to the dimension of The Fire. What you should know is both The Fire and the earlier novel, The Eight, are a subperb blend of fact and fiction with characters in both categories. You will at once be both thrilled and delighted as these characters assume specific pieces of a chess set. The reader need not know anything about chess but will be held in suspense as "the players" criss cross the country trying to stay one step ahead of death all the while searching for the Black Queen who has disappeared from a birthday party.

    If you enjoy a quest you will definitely love this new adventure. It has all the suspense, drama, twists and turns of a truly great novel.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 17, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    A Long Awaited Sequel to The Eight

    The Fire, while an interesting novel on its own, is far better appreciated if readers have first read The Eight, originally published twenty years ago. The Fire continues the Game, with a new generation of characters involved in the pursuit of an ancient chess set. Again, Katherine Neville had written a fantastic novel with both historical and fictional characters and interwoven storylines from different historical time periods. This book crosses the boundaries of genre and gender and is skillfully written. This book is one of the best that I have read in the past year.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 21, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Disappointing after reading The Eight

    Far far too much detail which did not seem to add to the plot. You almost have to stop and try to diagram the who's who to keep track of the turns.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 10, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    More intrigue

    Thinking the trip is much too dangerous, Cat Velis begs her husband, Alexander Solarin, not to take their daughter, 12 year old Alexandra Solarin , to Russia for a chess tournament. Even so, they travel to the walled park of Zagorsk for the match. While waiting in line to get into the vestry where the match is to be held, an old woman brushes past Alexandra and leaves her with an embossed card with the Russian word for danger on it. Alexander gets a quick look at the old woman but she can¿t possibly be who he thinks she is, can she? He grabs his daughter¿s hand to chase after the old woman when their world explodes .As a master story-teller, Neville really knows how to ramp up the suspense and intrigue. By the end of the prologue I was hooked. <BR/><BR/> We fast forward ten years to adult Alexandra, also know an Xie, receiving a very cryptic invitation from her mother to a birthday party. Xie thinks this is a little odd since her mother never celebrates her birthday and actually does not like to even tell people the date. Even though she has not had much communication from her in five years, she travels to Colorado only to find her mother missing. Several others, including her aunt Lily , her best friend Nokomis Key and Vartan Azvov, young chess master, also show up at the house. When Xie finds a chess set with a game in progress that was the same game she was playing when her father was shot, along with a mysterious set of clues, Xie feels she must search out her mother.<BR/><BR/>The story alternates from one century to the present. From the past we learn the history of the Montglane Chess set, a very powerful set made for Charlemagne. Most of the pieces have been hidden around the world and many people have looked for them. Vividly portrayed are those who over a span of many years coveted it¿s power and those who did all they could to protect the pieces of the set, some dying while making the attempt. In the present we follow Xie, her aunt Lily and others as she tries to find her mother, one of the people who had hidden numerous pieces of the set twenty years previously. But now Xie wonders if¿ The Game ¿is back on? There are a lot of heart thumping moments as Xie does not know who to trust or distrust during her search. The reader will be deeply enthralled with all the intrigue and mystery related to this highly valued chess set, anxiously turning each page to see the outcome. <BR/><BR/> Although The Fire is sequel to The Eight, it is a stand alone book but if you have not previously read The Eight, one of the most compellingly intriguing books ever, I recommend that you read it. There is a tremendous amount of fascinating history that will greatly enhance your understanding of The Fire. The characters are plausible, likeable and most are well developed. I think a few of the main characters could have been a little sharper. Historical figures are easily blended in with the fictional ones. The story is well paced and transitions smoothly from one time frame to the next with deep layers of complexity richly told. Neville¿s descriptions transport the reader right into the scene. With some thrillers and international conspiracies, the readers¿ need to suspend disbelief is implied. A few of the puzzle solving scenarios in the beginning I found a bit implausible but still and all a very enjoyable read . Highly recommended.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 1, 2008

    what a mess

    After reading thr Eight I was looking forward to this book, but was very disapointed. The characters are flat and underdeveloped, the amazing puzzles from the first book are gone leaving puzzles the characters solve with out any thought. If you loved the Eight think twice before reading.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 22, 2008

    The Fire is a Splendid Sequel

    Some things are worth waiting for and Katherine Neville's THE FIRE is one of them. In the twenty years since her original book the The EIGHT captured the attention, minds and hearts of readers across the world, she has once again written a novel that will keep us turning the pages and staying up to the wee hours. THE FIRE centers on Alexandra Solarin, daughter of Catherine Velis the main character from THE EIGHT. A former child chess prodigy who quit playing after a traumatic incident in her youth, Alexandra is living a quiet, uneventful life in Washington, DC but has a series of adventures that catapult her from the safety of life as a sous chef to the middle of ¿the game¿ and the frantic search for her missing mother. This being a Neville novel, Cat Velis has left her daughter a series of riddles and clues to discover and decode based on mystical chess set. Alexandra is now playing a life and death game with terrifying consequences that reach across the centuries to the Ottoman Empire, and involve such well known figures as Lord Byron, George Washington and Catherine the Great. A White Queen, a Black Queen, a chessboard, links to Islam, references to current events such the war in Iraq, and many gambits keep the reader guessing about the truth of the chess set. The large cast of characters, many historical shifts, and abundance of information may cause overload but also keeps the reader captivated. If you like puzzles from sudoku to cryptograms, are intrigued by history, enjoy quirky characters (the kind of people you¿d love to claim you¿ve met), and if you loved THE EIGHT, then get this book. If you just want something interesting to read, get this book. You don¿t have be a devotee of THE EIGHT to enjoy it (but you should read it anyway). You¿ll finish THE FIRE, ponder it and want to discuss it with friends because it so much more than just a novel. It is another book for inquisitive minds and readers who like mystery, romance, suspense, history, and imaginative writing all in one book. You won¿t be disappointed in playing ¿the game¿ once again because this book like THE EIGHT, is a chance to discover a little bit of enlightenment from the mind of Katherine Neville.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 4, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    nice follow up

    fun adventure

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 18, 2013

    Great read

    Love this book

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 21, 2012

    Not very interesting

    Boring, even it may seem interesting in the beginning

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  • Posted June 26, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    I hate to leave a bad review for what is a fantastic, wonderfull

    I hate to leave a bad review for what is a fantastic, wonderfully-written story, and a worthy sequel to Katherine's &quot;The Eight,&quot; but I have to say something about the typesetting of the Nook version. I own this book in hardcover as well as for the Nook, and the hardcover edition is excellent. The Nook version, however, is rife with glaring, horrible typesetting errors, such as repeated lines, countless run together words, misplaced ends of sentences and paragraphs, etc. I don't know how Nook versions of existing books are created, but the number of errors is absolutely horrible. It isn't reader-dependent, either - in my Nook Color and in Nook for Windows, the same errors are visible in the same places. As I said above, the story and writing are absolutely terrific, but whomever is responsible for typesetting the Nook version should be ashamed.

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