The Eight – Katherine Neville

570 pages of pure ambrosia for those who enjoy a good Historical Fiction. Combination of History and chess has been turned into  a scintillating thriller, full of historical characters, transporting readers across the world from America to Europe to Africa, all on a quest regarding Montglane Chess Service, which lies at the very centre of this ingenious plot. In my personal opinion, i would consider this a contemporary version of Alice in Wonderland, with the plot set within the real history of the world.

From within, the forms radiate their magic rules

Homeric castle, nimble knight,

Armoured queen, backward king,

Oblique bishop, and aggressive pawns

Story begins in 1790 at Montglane Abbey in France with two novices – Mireille and Valentine, who are tasked with a special mission by the Abbess and sent forth to Paris. “The Montglane Service” the legendary chess set gifted to Charlemagne by Ibn Al Arabi, governor of Barcelona, in reality came from the Moors and is covered in mystic and black magic. Abbess exhumes the pieces of this chess set, along with the board and the cloth covering the same and attempts to scatter all of them far and wide. This chess set had been buried beneath the Abbey for thousand years with a curse.

Cursed is He who bring these walls to Earth

The King is checked by the Hand of God alone.

While Mirelle and Valentine are swarmed by the French Revolution and trying to collect and keep safe the pieces, the story moves into the present i,e, 1972. Catherine Vellis, a computer expert, hired by a CPA firm is being shipped off to Algeria after a confrontation and minor rebellion against one of the corrupt partners at the firm.

As the author says, “in the game of life the pawns are teh should of chess. and even a lowly pawn can change its dress.”, the reader goes through the journey with Cat – who transforms from a pawn to the Black Queen with fortune teller, chess players, computer genius, murders and mayhem and secret police along the way.

The stories of Mirelle and Cat go hand in hand, both astounded to find themselves in the middle of this dangerous game, first in denial and then seeking to take control, change the course of things.

Its a fast paced story, keeping the reader glued to the pages for more. Dry humour keeps the book from becoming a history tome ” This nation of shoemakers has reversed the very order of nature.” The mathematical and scientific details have been simplified, making them easy to understand and of course, living through the course of history – the French terror, Napoleons rise and defeat and coming across famous poets and mathematicians and musicians keeps things intriguing.

The consolidation of all stories together, towards an epic ending is predictable. What else, but the very “elixir” lies at the heart of this mythical chess service. Question is who will be able to resist the temptation enough to actually destroy the whole set?

“you mean a real chess game? with people as the pieces?”

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