If I were a lazy little bespectacled monkey, this would be an easy review. Sword of God and its predecessor Sign of the Cross have so many similarities that I could almost just copy my earlier review, replace the odd word here and there and present it as a new review. I Promise I won't, though!
Sword of God follows the further adventures of former US Special Ops soldiers Payne and Jackson. Now retired, they are lured back into the army life for one last mission when one of their former comrades goes missing in mysterious circumstances. As they investigate his disappearance, they start to unravel a terrifying terrorist plot linked to an ancient mystery.
Sign of the Cross followed the tried and tested "religious artefact mystery" plotline and produced a simple, but readable book. Sword of God tries to be a little bit more ambitious. The main focus is on Payne and Jackson slowly uncovering the terrorist's plans, whilst a sub-plot relating to a mysterious archaeological dig adds a further, unexpected danger. Sadly, these two elements never quite work together and always come across as two completely separate plots, with no obvious connection. They do eventually come together - right at the end, but even then it's not terribly satisfying or convincing. In fact, the main plot was actually enjoyable enough on its own and didn't need to be burdened down with anything else. Rather than adding to the pace and atmosphere of the book, the sub-plot actually slows things down and provides an unnecessary and unwelcome distraction. It's almost as though Kuzneski felt compelled to cram in a "religious artefact" element into the plot somewhere, as if he doesn't have the courage of his conviction that the main plot is sufficiently strong to stand on its own.
When it comes to plot development, Sword of God doesn't hang around and proceeds at a terrific pace! It might be plotting-by-numbers (clue at one location leads to clue at another location), but it's insanely readable. One or two minor stylistic annoyances aside (more on those in a moment), Kuzneski has a very strong style, well suited to this type of tale. His prose is simple but effective, and draws the reader in. Before long you find yourself devouring page after page, unable to stop. It's not exactly high literature, but it is massively enjoyable.
It's true that Sword of God is very superficial and character development is non-existent, with none really enjoying what you might call fleshed-out personalities. The skills they possess and their outlook on life is basically determined by the needs of the plot. To keep the pace fast, everything is stripped to absolute basics with all extraneous character information ruthlessly excised. Indeed, such is the lack of characterisation that I can't even remember which is Payne and which is Jackson, unless I stop and think about it. Worryingly, they are the two most developed characters (since they have appeared in two previous adventures), so that gives you some idea of the fate of the more incidental ones!
Kuzneski also has a couple of stylistic flourishes which I found annoying. Firstly, whilst his character development is non-existent, he tends to provide too much information on locations (and, of course, with this sort of title, the characters flit between lots of different places). The openings of chapters can sometimes read more like a guide book than a novel, containing an abundance of facts, figures and history, most of which are completely irrelevant and not even that interesting. It's as though Kuzneski has done lots of research and is determined to share it, whether relevant or not.
Kuzneski also has a bit of an obsession with using and explaining the correct terminology. Much of the book is set in the Arab world, and (for various, plot related reasons), there are times when his characters dress up as Arabs. When this happens, Kuzneski takes great delight in telling us the correct Arabic names for all the items of clothing being worn... and then going on to describe them in too much detail. Given the superficial treatment of more important things like characters and plot, this obsession with small, unimportant details is slightly bizarre and becomes annoying by the end.
A further annoying quirk lurks at the end of many chapters, where Kuzneski tries to provide a "trailer" for what is to come. He will end with sentences like "Little did they know, things were about to get a lot worse". Obviously, he is trying to build the tension and excitement and tempt you into reading some more. Yet, it's also very clumsy but it acts as a constant reminder that you are actually just reading a book that's been made up by the author. As a result, it has the opposite effect to the one intended and rather than contributing to a tense atmosphere, it actually subdues it.
Despite these stylistic weaknesses and minor annoyances, Sword of God is a fun read. There is absolutely nothing original about it, and it follows the same path as so many other books within this genre. Still, it is entertaining and one of those perfect airport or pool-side books that will divert you from endless delays/screaming kids, whilst being simple enough that you can put it down at any point and pick it up again with ease. Superficial, but fun, it's exactly like Sign of the Cross and for once, that lack of originality is not a problem.
Sword of God
© Copyright SWSt 2010
"Sword of God" is the third Chris Kuzneski book I have read in quick succession, and coincidentally, also the author's third book. I was hooked on this author after reading "The Lost Throne", a book I picked up for 50p at a charity book shop in a hospital foyer, and was so inspired by the quality of the writing that I decided to get my hands on his entire back catalogue. However, his latest book (and my second read), "The Prophecy" proved to be a relative disappointment, so I approached "Sword of God" a bit more critically, unsure of what to expect.
THE BASIC STORY
Kuzneski's books all feature the dynamic pairing of two central characters - David Jones and Jonathan Payne. Payne is the heir to a Pittsburgh steel fortune, who has reluctantly retired from a covert special forces team called the MANIACs (short for Marines, Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard) - a military unit specialising in "black" operations and made up of the cream of the armed forces and intelligence community. His buddy and best friend, Jones, used to be in the same unit and has also retired to become a private investigator.
However, when one of their ex-colleagues goes missing from a top-secret US installation on Jeju Island - a popular tourist spot and resort in South Korea, the pair are roped in to try and find out what happened to him. On they way there, they reluctantly team up with Kia Choi, a translator of Korean extraction serving with the American military.
In the meantime, halfway across the world in Mecca, an ambitious young archaeologist, Shari Shasmeen, is tunnelling under the city in search of an ancient relic, which, if uncovered would prove to be one of the most significant finds in the history of Islam. The stories, in Korea and Saudi Arabia, continue in parallel and eventually converge, bringing the story to a head during Islam's holiest week - the culmination of the Hajj - the pilgrimage all Muslims must make to Mecca at least once in their lifetime.
IS IT ANY GOOD?
I raced through the novel in around three days, which sounds like a ringing endorsement of its readability. However, despite being a relatively easy and pleasurable read, it's not a novel that will stay long in my memory. Compared with the first Kuzneski novel I read - "The Lost Throne" - this one lacked a bit of panache.
The main characters - Payne and Jones were well fleshed out. The author manages to keep their relationship fresh and finds a good balance between re-hashing their back story to prevent new readers from being alienated, and providing enough new material to keep fans of his previous books engaged. However, the effort he puts into his two leads is not replicated with the other main characters. Both female leads - Shasneem the archaeologist and Choi the translator - are given the briefest hint of depth and character.
In fact, having now read three of Kuzneski's novels, his basic structure in pulling together the story has deviated very little. One of the less imaginative elements he keeps repeating is the coy, intelligent and pretty woman who provides a feisty, "go get 'em" assistant for the two action men, and who invariably needs saving at some point before providing one or the other with a love interest. Fortunately the latter aspect is played down in this novel, with neither Payne nor Jones making eyes at Choi or vice versa.
However, the other common thread, which he continually pulls off very well - is the expert pacing, taut writing and the slow and inexorable confluence between the two story strands. Kuzneski excels as a storyteller and has a knack for creating suspense out of situations which seem, at a glance, far too obvious to provide the potential for any real tension. As such, his shallow treatment of the female characters, while disappointing, is not terminal to the novel. If you get past the fact that Shasneem, in particular, is little more than a device to move the story along, it's actually not a bad story.
Another positive is that the author works in a lot of good historical, social and political background which helps put the story in context and provides a vivid backdrop against which the story plays out. Despite considering myself fairly knowledgeable, I learned a great deal about the Islamic faith and the culture of Jeju islanders. Whilst parts of the novel are unashamedly jingoistic and slightly gung ho (in a way only Americans can manage) it remains realistic and accessible to a wide readership.
"Sword of God" has all the components of a very good historical thriller - sort of a cross between Clive Cussler and Dan Brown without being overly derivative - however, for some reason, one I cannot adequately put my finger on, the sum is less than its component parts. I found it hard to connect with some of the characters and found myself totally ambivalent to the "villain" of the piece. I neither disliked him enough to cheer for his comeuppance, nor sympathised enough about the demons that plague him (i.e. the drivers behind the choices he makes) to really care what happens to him.
The novel is well written, has a decent plot and strong central characters, but I found the pay-off at the end weak and unsatisfying, and, if pressed, probably a bit contrived. Consider it damned with faint praise. As such, I have yet to find a Kuzneski work to equal the masterful "The Lost Throne", but having got a quarter of the way through "The Plantation", my persistence with Kuzneski looks like it may finally be rewarded. Watch this space!
The book is available in paperback from Amazon.com for around £4.10 (reduced from the £6.99 RRP). However, I obtained my copy from greenmetropolis.com (a used book exchange) for £3.00, which is not only better value, but probably more representative of fair value for this novel.
Title: Sword of God
Author: Chris Kuzneski
Penguin Books (2007)
© Hishyeness 2010
This is the first book by Chris Kuzenski that I have read, though he has written at least two others; 'The Plantation' and 'Sign of the Cross'.
This book is a thriller with an interesting religious undercurrent, not at all like the Dan Brown books, though some readers may find some similarities, and if you like Dan Brown you will probably like this.
This is where I think the book is particularly well written because it has two main stories that eventually merge, and a number of sub plots. It is not difficult to follow all, equally it is not difficult to 'lose your place' if you put the book down for too long.
The two main plots are firstly that a group of ex undercover special forces are dispatched to Korea to investigate the dissapearance/murder of an ex colleague and events surrounding this. Like all good special forces plots there are deceptions and red herrings aplenty. There is the obligatory tortured, angst ridden leader of the group, the loyal sidekick and an intelligent female love interest, get past the corniness and its actually okay to follow this plot alone as a story.
The 2nd main plot involves a muslim, woman archeologist trying to find something (I'm not giving the plot away alltogether) that may change the way all the worlds Muslims view their spiritual history and roots.
As I have said, the two plots start to merge about halfway through the book and in the final part of the book we see the plots rushing together ending up in Mecca where we reach a dramatic conclusion that is full of thrills, spills and kills.
We see the CIA and other governmental organisations behaving in clandestine ways throughout the book and it is quite hard to guess what the truth is until the last twenty or so pages, which is good as all thrillers should keep one guessing.
The action is fast paced, insightful and not too gruesome, so it definitely does not cross into the horror genre.
This is a well written book that is an easy read, not the greatest book I have ever read, but a good bedside book or beach book. I do like the way that the author ties in several plots which are being spun out in different parts of the World. I will probably seek out his other books now, as I tend to go through phases of authors if I like the first one I read. Six out of ten for me.
Also posted on Ciao, same member name.
Tunnelling deep under one of the most holy cities in the world, an ambitious young archaeologist slowly works her way towards an unthinkable goal. Somewhere ahead is a chamber containing the collected fragments of an ancient scripture, a find of unimaginable significance. Meanwhile, halfway around the world, a covert military bunker holds a macabre secret. An elite special-forces officer seems to have been brutally murdered - but how, and more disturbingly, why? Any hope of solving the mystery rests on the grisly clues that remain. As the race to uncover the truth begins, a plot unfolds that could burn all of civilization in the fires of holy Armageddon. Those who live by the sword...