Hard to classify, impossible to put down, Katherine Neville’s 1988 book , to me, stood the test of time. A cult classic, long in print, it has been on my shelf for over 20 years. I first ran across it in a list of recommended books. Over the next couple of years, I ran across it again and again, so I eventually found a copy, and put it in my TBR (to-be-read) pile, and there it sat for another few years, as more books got added to the pile (a perennial problem).
But one day I decided to take a chance on this long, rather dense book, and was hooked. Involving 1970s New York and Libya, with OPEC, and part of it set in France just before and during the Reign of Terror, and Russia, with Catherine the Great, as well as Charlemagne and the entire cast of characters in France, Britain and America during those pivotal years around the turn of the 18th century, it involves a legendary chess set of Charlemagne, said to have incredible powers. But to deny people access to those powers, during the Terror, the chess set was dug up from it’s hiding place of 1000 years, and separated and dispersed across the globe. Many tried to reunite the pieces during that time, but only in the present day was the cause taken up again, by a group of master chess players and their families, as well as some assorted characters.
A true original, and I believe one of the originators of the “artifact thrillers” that have come to dominate the thriller/action scene in books, it is at once a lesson is history, chess, and power. The cast is broad in scope, and includes, Robespierre, Ben Franklin, Boswell, Jacques Louis David, Talleyrand, etc. Fun, exciting, and spanning centuries, this is one of my all time favorite books, worthy of a re-read time and again. I hadn’t read it in years, and thought how well it stood up.