[Review] The Fire by Katherine Neville

Title: The Fire: A Novel
Author: Katherine Neville
Series: Montglane Service #2
Page: 536 pages
Genre: Mystery/Thriller, Historical Fiction
Subject: Quests, Puzzles, Chess Sets, Family Secrets, Code and Cipher
First Published: 2008

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 the chessmen the secrets of the power that comes with possessing them. But Alexandra arrives to find that her mother is missing – and that the Game has begun again.

1822, Albania: Haidee, the young daughter of a powerful Ottoman ruler, embarks on a dangerous mission to smuggle a valuable relic out of Albania and deliver it into the hands of the one man who might be able to save it. Haidee’s journey brings forth chilling revelations that burn through history to the present day.

- Synopsis from book cover

Since falling head over heels in love with The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova a few years ago (OK, I’m being overly dramatic there!), I have been on a search of another book of the same premise that could match, if not surpass The Historian. And so one day this book caught my eye … only later to find out (after started reading it) that The Fire is actually a sequel to Katherine Neville’s The Eight published some twenty years ago!

The story started with a mysterious incident in Russia that led to a death.

Alexandra Solarin was twelve years old in the autumn of 1993. She was being accompanied by her father, Aleksandr Solarin on a chess tournament in Zagorsk Monastery, Russia. This youngest grandmaster of chess was to play against a similarly young chess grandmaster from Ukraine named Vartan Azov in the very final game of the tournament.

Shortly before the game, the girl bumped into a local woman who – without Alexandra realizing it – slipped a cardboard placard into her pocket; a symbol that bore “a small illustration of a flying bird set inside an Islamic eight-pointed star, and three words printed in Russian…” that meant “Beware the Fire”. Later in the monastery, Aleksandr saw a sculpture – heavy gold carving, caked with jewels.. portrayed a figure dressed in long robes and seated in small pavilion with the draperies drawn back – known as “The Black Queen”. *** OK, I think this is the part from Book#1 *** Sensing danger, Aleksandr fled the tournament with his daughter to find the woman who slipped the cardboard with the symbol earlier, but as soon as he spotted her, Aleksandr was shot in front of his young daughter.

Ten years later, with the sudden and mysterious disappearance of her mother, Alexandra realizes that the Game in search of the chess pieces has evidently started again… As Alexandra reunites with her arch nemesis, Vartan Azov, they must join forces on an adventure to solve the puzzle.

It was quite an enjoyable read as the story brings me on a journey throughout the Middle East and the story is jam-packed with historical references – on the Ottoman empire, Lord Byron, Napoleon, chess strategies (even though I don’t play chess!), the Basques and more. Fans of the likes of The Da Vinci Code might find this story engaging with the adventures and puzzle-solving, all interwoven in centuries-old history.

Comments and reviews I read on LibraryThing and Goodreads mostly saying that this book is not as gripping as the first one … which I will about to find out soon when I start reading The Eight.