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The Fire    by Katherine Neville order for
by Katherine Neville
Order:  USA  Can
Ballantine, 2009 (2008)
Hardcover, Softcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

The Fire, the long awaited and hotly anticipated sequel to The Eight, is being snatched off the shelves as you read this. The Eight, published twenty years ago, has sold more than 1.5 million copies in the U.S. alone. The publishers, cannot say enough about this very welcome sequel that spans the years from 1822 to 2003.

Alexandra Solarin is summoned to her family's ancestral Rocky Mountain hideaway to celebrate her mother's birthday. Finding no one there, she is greeted instead by a series of clues that she, as a chess whiz, is expected to solve and then hie off to locate pieces of an extremely valuable and mysterious chess set that could change the course of the world.

The ensuing chase is interspersed with windows back in time to witness the manufacture of this unique chess set. Author Katherine Neville manages to knead these flashbacks together seamlessly to keep the action flowing. The plot is convoluted but can be followed if the readers' attention is kept on course. The whole concept is intriguing, obviously meant to keep readers on the edge of their seats, while flipping pages to see what could possibly occur next. There is no disappointment in this category.

Alexandra's quest takes her from Colorado to the Russian wilderness to her hometown of Washington, D.C.. In 1822, a powerful man in the Ottoman Empire plays a part as does his daughter Haidee, who traces the origin of this mysterious set back one thousand years to when it was crafted. It seems as though the whole world was looked at as a game to be won.

At times, I was baffled by references to people or happenings that were unknown to me. Nevertheless, I kept on and things fell into place. This is not a book to enjoy for short spans of time, but rather one that requires concentration – concentration that the reader is only too willing to give. I highly recommend The Fire to you as a powerful book, beautifully written.

2nd Review by Hilary Williamson:

Fans of Katherine Neville's The Eight - who have waited twenty years for this sequel, The Fire - will not be disappointed. Both books center on a mystical gold chess set (the Montglane Service), 'caked with uncut jewels in a rainbow of colors'. Now, pieces are in play again, new players are being identified, and the 'Game has begun anew'.

After a brief flashback to the time when Alexandra 'Xie' Solarin was a child chess prodigy and saw her father killed at a Russian tournament after a warning from a mysterious lady, The Fire opens in 2003. Alexandra heads to her mother's austere Rocky Mountain retreat for a surprise birthday party. But it is Alexandra who is surprised by her mother's invited guests - including her daughter's Ukrainian childhood opponent, Vartan Azov (now a handsome Grandmaster). The guest of honor does not show up herself, instead leaving puzzles that only Alexandra can solve.

As readers wonder about the identities of both white and black queens in the real life chess game that is underway, the action quickly moves to Washington, D. C., whose design is itself one of the keys to the mystery. There, Xie works for Basque Rodolfo Boujaron at his world renowned restaurant, Sutalde, the Hearth. One of her responsibilities is to keep its fire burning.

A flashback to 1800s Albania reveals other key players. As the sultan's assassins slaughter her family, Haidée, twelve-year-old daughter of a powerful pasha, is told to seek her true father, 'a great English lord', and deliver the black Queen to him. Accompanying her is Kauri, a boy with just as mysterious a lineage as her own. They have many adventures before Haidée finally meets her father. Flashbacks continue throughout the story, giving context to events involving key chess pieces and major historical figures.

A theme of fire burns through the novel, from literary and mythological references to the Sutalde restaurant, meetings on a volcanic summit and at Yellowstone Caldera, and a most surprising reunion in Alaska. Alexandra careens from one crisis and betrayal to the next, unsure whom she can trust (even among people she has known all her life) and wondering what has happened to her mother. And when Xie finally understands the Original Instructions (sought for twelve hundred years), she herself feels like 'A firebird, bringing light.' The Fire is highly recommended.

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