Newest Review: ... 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... more
Sword of God Needed a Little Sharpening
Sword of God - Chris Kuzneski
Member Name: Hishyeness
Sword of God - Chris Kuzneski
Advantages: Well paced and entertaining read
Disadvantages: Supporting characters a little underdeveloped. Weak pay-off.
"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
Summary: A decent read, but I wouldn't rush out to buy it at full RRP.