The Fire, like The Eight, follows two timelines, one past (in this case 1822) and one present (2003). In the past, sultan’s daughter Haidee flees with a priceless treasure from her palace in Albania as it is being overrun by Turks. In the present, former chess prodigy Alexandra learns that she’s a player in “The Game” when she is invited to her mother’s birthday party only to discover that she has vanished.
If you’ve read The Eight, then you know what “The Game” is. If you haven’t read The Eight, then I highly suggest you read it first. Otherwise, you’ll get its magical story distilled in a few paragraphs of dry summary, and by only reading The Fire you’ll probably think “The Game” is pretty pointless as well. That’s because Neville never manages to demonstrate what’s actually at stake, or even introduce any real drama or urgency to Alexandra’s quest (Haidee’s story is woefully relegated to serious back burner status). There is a lot of talk about the white team and the black team but the one person who emerges as a “villain” cannot even be taken seriously.
Alexandra is a sympathetic character with a doozy of a back story, but she’s never proactive – she merely reacts to situations during the entire book. (NOTE: I think that conceptually, this had something to do with her favorite chess strategy – The King Indian Defense – but practically, it is highly frustrating).
Neville has certainly done her research, and if you like conspiracy theories, complex riddles, and the fictional integration of real historical personalities like Lord Byron and Thomas Jefferson, then this might be up your alley. For me though, it was too much talk, too little actual story, especially in comparison to the fun that I had reading The Eight.
The Fire will be released in hardcover on October 14th.