Have you ever read a book and enjoyed it, and then years later, upon reading the sequel, been terribly afraid that you have awful taste? I don’t really think that I have bad taste, but boy, reading The Fire by Katherine Neville sure gave me pause. It’s a really bad book. Like, really bad.
The Fire is the sequel to The Eight, which is very much in the same vein as The Da Vinci Code, etc. I picked it up at my in-laws’ house over Christmas vacation a few years ago, and as a vacation read, it was really fun. It’s about chess, and it employs two stories that take place hundreds of years (or so) apart, and it utilizes a lot of characters that were real, historical figures. The Fire is pretty much the same, picking up about 10-15 years where the first book left off. It also focuses on chess and international intrigue (and cooking, this time), is telling two different stories from different periods of time, and features people like Byron and Thomas Jefferson. But where I remember thinking that the first one was tightly written, with fast-paced action and reasonably decent dialogue, the second is, well, none of those things.
The writing is atrocious, the action is pretty damn boring, the dialogue is particularly bad (everyone talks like a history book, and a poorly and monotonously written one, at that), there’s little to no character development at all, and the whole thing is just a mess. I’m usually ok at figuring out where things are leading, what the twists are, and so on, in books. That I found it impossible to make the connections the author was making in this one is not due to any recent brain damage on my part, I promise you. At the end of nearly every chapter, the characters just make some random leap to the next piece of the puzzle, and the explanations are not comprehensible.
I’m really bummed that this book was so bad. I read the whole thing, thinking that maybe it would redeem itself, but the end was worse than the rest of the book. I feel as though, seeing as the books were published twenty years apart, Neville somehow was coerced into writing a sequel she really wasn’t interested in writing. I’m sure it probably made everyone a fair amount of money, but I’d have asked for mine back, had I actually spent money on The Fire.