Wednesday, November 12, 2008

"The Fire"

Katherine Neville is the author of The Eight, The Magic Circle (a USA Today bestseller), and A Calculated Risk (a New York Times Notable Book). The Eight has been translated into more than thirty languages. In a national poll in Spain by the noted journal El PaĆ­s, The Eight was voted one of the top ten books of all time.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Fire, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Fire begins with an astonishing scene and ends with a shocking revelation:

The year is 1822. The place is the scalding hot beach at Viarregio, Italy. Inflamed by the sun of the Dog Days beating down on him, the world-famous poet, Lord Byron is standing on the shore, watching as the body of his drowned friend, Percy Bysshe Shelley, is consumed by flames on a hastily-improvised funeral pyre set upon the sands--Byron is disgusted to see the corpse's brains bubbling and smoldering against an iron grille that holds the putrefied remains. A pillar of smoke rises to the skies where a seagull circles above.

First the death by water. Then the death by fire, thinks Byron.

As others look on, hypnotized by the ghastly scene and the fire, Byron muses over the time that he and his fellow poet Shelley have spent together in Europe, ever since both fled from England six years ago--and of how for six years they have been pursued by the deaths of others: deaths by disease, suicides and drownings of family members, ex-wives, beloved friends, even children. They were almost swallowed into a vortex of death.

But THIS death--the death of Percy Shelley, as Byron slowly realizes--could have been no accident.

On this page, Byron also replays in his mind the events of the day of his beloved friend's disappearance in his small boat, the Ariel, as Shelley sailed into the belly of an oncoming storm. There was only one thing that would have caused his friend to take such a risk, as Byron knows. Shelley was being pursued. By someone who was seeking an object of rare value aboard that ship.

But what they sought, as Byron knows better than anyone, had not been found. And Percy Shelley, "a man who had never believed in immortality," seems to have sent his friend Byron one last message from beyond the grave--if only Byron can decipher its encoded meaning.

Throughout the story of The Fire, we find fire itself, as an element of the plot, ever-present. In this scene, we begin to understand--through Byron's mind--how fire itself is connected with the chess set from The Eight known as the Montglane Service, which had once belonged to Charlemagne and had been buried for a thousand years. A chess set that, as it had long been prophesied, would one day set the world itself aflame.

In this pivotal scene, we also first realize that a critical piece of the chess set that we believed was on its way to Byron had somehow never arrived: the Black Queen--the key piece to the solution of the mystery-- has vanished en route. And along with the queen, the young people we thought were conveying the piece to him have also disappeared...

We have to turn the page to learn what happens next....
Read an excerpt from The Fire, and learn more about the author and her work at Katherine Neville's website. View the video trailer for The Fire.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue