Newest Review: ... expense of other important aspects, such as character development. The book manages to be both fast-paced and entertaining, without ever... more
The Play's The Thing
The Book of Air and Shadows - Michael Gruber
Member Name: SWSt
The Book of Air and Shadows - Michael Gruber
Advantages: A well-written and interesting variation on a well known theme
Disadvantages: Becomes slightly repetitive in the middle
I confess: my first reaction on reading the back cover summary for The Book of Air and Shadows" was "oh no! Not another globetrotting thriller surrounding the hunt for a mysterious historical object. Within about 50 pages my attitude had changed to "Wow! Another great book about a hunt for a mysterious historical object" and I was completely hooked.
Yes, on one level, The Book of Air and Shadows offers little that hasn't already been seen. Surrounding the search for a possible previously unknown, handwritten Shakespeare play, it contains all the hallmarks of the genre: a bunch of good guys hunting down an artefact; a bunch of bad guys chasing them and trying to steal it and a range of international locations, particularly within England and the USA. So far, so Dan Brown.
In fact, The Book of Air and Shadows is a lot more intelligent than its plot premise initially suggests. It brings in influences from the world of film and TV, literature and the real world and melds them into a highly satisfying adventure.
For the most part, the book is perfectly paced. It rattles along at a cracking old pace, with lots of new developments that keep interest levels high so that the reader is rarely, if ever, bored. At the same time this fast paced plotting is not achieved at the expense of other important aspects, such as character development. The book manages to be both fast-paced and entertaining, without ever being superficial.
All of the major characters in the Book of Air and Shadows feel like real people. For the most part, they act in ways you would expect them to and none suddenly turn into Indiana Jones. Of course, there are certain archetypes that are needed to make sure the plot can proceed (the decent, downtrodden hero; the rich benefactor, the mysterious female character and the deadly pursuers who will stop at nothing to get the artefact. Yet, although these characters are essentially genre standards, author Michael Gruber brings them to life and ensures they are fully-fledged 3D characters in a way that lesser authors in this market too often fail to do.
Gruber, remarkably, also succeeds in bringing historical characters to life. This is achieved through an interesting and novel medium. Rather than telling the historical part of the tale through flashbacks, he does it by means of a series of ciphered letters, interspersed throughout the main narrative. These slowly reveal the historical element of the plot to the reader, often allowing them to keep one step ahead of the characters in the book.
These interludes are written in olde English, complete with Jacobean spelling and grammatical phrases. This makes them sound incredibly authentic and adds to the sense of history which is so critical to the novel's overall success. True, some of the spellings and phraseology sound very clumsy and odd to our 21st century ear and some people may find it a little difficult to read, but once you adapt to the style, this authentic historical language adds to the sense of realism.
These letters also create a very real sense of the people and time that they are talking about. The main "historical" character, Richard Bracegirdle is actually fictional, but he feels very real. More importantly, the character of William Shakespeare is very convincing. The only more realistic portrayal I have come across in a work of fiction is the excellent Will by Christopher Rush. Although only a relatively minor character, this portrayal of Shakespeare is an excellent one, both feasible and consistent with what (little) is known about the real person.
It's true that the plot doesn't contain much new. Regular readers of this type of book will spot most of the so-called "plot twists" a mile off and, in fact, the book makes a virtue of this. The account is written from the perspective of one of the chief protagonists shortly after the events portrayed, and the narrator frequently admits that, with hindsight, everything seems obvious which helps mitigate any suggestions that the plot is predictable. As we all know, hindsight is a wonderful thing!
It's also fair to say that the book loses its way a little in the middle. For the most part, the story is (successfully) told from the perspective of two different narrators. This is well handled, with the story flitting between the two. Each distinct section has a sufficiently different voice to make you believe that the various sections were really written by two different people. Towards the middle, however, the paths of the narrators cross. It's here the book goes downhill, as there are passages where the same events are reported from the perspective of each of the narrators, often with little discernible difference. This seriously slows everything down and it feels like you are being forced to read the same chapter twice.
Overall, I was very pleasantly surprised by The Book of Air and Shadows. Expecting a derivative, unimaginative adventure, the book surpassed expectations and managed to add something a little different to an over-crowded genre. Slightly more intelligent than your average Da Vinci Code rip off, The Book of Air and Shadows is a great read and well worth picking up.
The Book of Air and Shadows
(C) Copyright SWSt 2012
Summary: An enjoyable and intelligent "mysterious lost object" adventure